Exercise May Protect Telomeres and Slow the Aging Process

Get moving to protect your telomeres! No, “telomeres” isn’t a new slang term for your knee joints; telomeres are located at the end of DNA strands in your cells and protect the strands during cell division and replication. As we age, our cells’ telomeres naturally fray and shorten. Unfortunately, health and lifestyle factors like obesity, smoking, insomnia, and diabetes can speed up this process. The good news is that research has found an association between physical activity and a lower risk of telomere shortening. The study was reported on by the New York Times and published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. The study looked at data from 6,503 people, aged 20 to 84, who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999 to 2002. Participants answered survey questions, indicating which of the following activities they had engaged in over the last month : (1) moderate-intensity physical activity, (2) vigorous-intensity physical activity, (3) walking/cycling for transportation, and (4) muscle-strengthening activities. Researchers scored the surveys by granting one point for each activity and compared those scores to each person’s telomere length (determined from the participants’ blood samples). Here is what they found:

  • Engaging in more forms of exercise was associated with a greater risk reduction: People who engaged in all four types of exercise had a 52% lower risk of being among the group with the shortest telomeres, compared with people who did not exercise at all.
  • Engaging in fewer forms of exercise still appeared to be beneficial: compared to non-exercisers, the likelihood of having the shortest telomeres was 3% lower in people who participated in a single type of exercise; 24% lower in people who participated in two types of exercise; and 29% lower in people who participated in three types of exercise.

This research is interesting because it suggests that a variety of regular exercise may slow the aging process. However, this study only demonstrated that people who exercise may have longer telomeres. More clinical research is needed to show a cause-and-effect relationship between exercise and telomere length. In addition, while other research has linked shorter telomeres to a shorter life, additional research is needed to understand if longer telomeres translate into better quality of life. In the end, one message is still clear: exercise is good for you.

Source: Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise

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