Did you know that in addition to the many well-known benefits of exercise for reducing the risk of chronic disease, evidence has emerged in the past few years that suggests that exercise may slow the aging process at the DNA level? I don’t know about you, but I think it’s exciting to know that exercise can benefit your health at the cellular level!
One area of research that is quite fascinating has to do with the biological aging centers on the regions of DNA called telomeres. These are located on the end of your chromosomes and they protect the chromosomes from deterioration. So, these are pretty important! Telomeres are shortened with each cell division until eventually they become too short. This prevents the cell from dividing any further which is called “senescence”. Now, as more and more cells in a tissue become senescent, its function can become impaired and the tissue starts to age. This is why telomere length is used as an indicator of aging and there are many studies that have investigated likely factors that may promote good and bad changes in telomere length.
For instance, studies have shown that shorter telomere length has been associated with high blood pressure, heart disease, insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, oxidative stress, and obesity. Yikes! And, guess what? Getting little or no exercise contributes to these conditions!
As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, regular exercise is associated with helping you have a longer and healthier life. And studies have shown links between physical activity and longer telomere length in both white blood cells and skeletal muscle cells. Hello stronger body and immune system! It gets better, because many of these studies have found that those who exercise regularly have “more youthful” DNA than those who are couch potatoes. And it’s never too late, as one study in particular showed that older individuals of 55-72 years who regularly engaged in endurance training not only had longer telomeres than “couch potato” people of their own age, but they also had similar telomere length to younger endurance-trained individuals, ages 18-32. This is amazing and suggests that exercise can help to maintain a longer telomere length over time which contributes to slower cellular aging. I like that! Think about it, you could be right up there with Scott Jurek (he’s 41!), master ultra-runner and a vegan! OK, maybe not quite, but you get the picture. By the way, Scott just broke the standing speed record for hiking/running the Appalachian Trail from Georgia to Maine. He basically hoofed it an average of 50 miles per day (over 46 days!) to reach this goal! This, to me, is a testament to how miraculous the human body is!
How exercise may positively affect telomere length continues to be studied, but it is emerging that it is most likely due to the ability of exercise to alleviate oxidative stress and/or inflammation in the body. And these are factors in particular that affect telomere length and that also contribute to diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. So if you haven’t been exercising, get out there and move that body! Who knows, you could be the next Scott Jurek! Just start doing something simple like walking, but please remember to check with a medical professional before beginning any fitness plan. To your good health!