Research coming out of the Brigham Young University in the US shows a major health advantage for those of us who are highly active.
Despite their best efforts and bottomless budgets, no scientist has ever come even close to stopping humans from ageing. Anti-ageing creams, lotions, potions, crystals and even sangoma spells are all bunk – none of them can stop the relentless march of time. In a bazaar kind of a way, you could say entropy is what we all live for. But new research out from Brigham Young University in the US reveals there is a way we can slow one type of ageing – the kind that happens to us on a cellular level. All you need do is be willing to work up a decent sweat on a regular basis.
“Just because you’re 40, doesn’t mean you’re 40 years old biologically,” says Exercise Science Professor Larry Tucker. “We all know people that seem younger than their actual age. The more physically active we are, the less biological ageing takes place in our bodies.”
The study, published in the medical journal Preventative Medicine, finds that people who have consistently high levels of physical activity have significantly longer telomeres than those who have sedentary lifestyles, as well as those who are moderately active.
Telomeres are the nucleotide endcaps of our chromosomes. They’re like our biological clock and they’re extremely correlated with age; each time a cell replicates, we lose a tiny bit of the endcaps. Therefore, the older we get, the shorter our telomeres become.
Put another way, if you imagine a chromosome as being an X-shaped unit of DNA, telomeres serve as caps at the end of each leg of the X, making sure no important DNA is spilled by mistake as the cells divide. As this process plays out over years, it causes the telomeres to shorten (15.6 base pairs for each chronological year, to be exact) – meaning that shortened telomeres correlate with older age. This key indicator has motivated research into how regulating telomeres might offer a way of slowing or even reversing our biological clocks.
Tucker found adults with high physical activity levels have telomeres with a biological ageing advantage of nine years over those who are sedentary, and a seven-year advantage compared to those who are moderately active. To qualify as being highly active, women had to engage in 30 minutes of jogging per day and men 40, five days a week.
“If you want to see a real difference in slowing your biological ageing, it appears that a little exercise won’t cut it,” says Tucker. “You have to work out regularly at high levels.”
Tucker analysed data from 5,823 adults aged between 20 and 84 who participated in the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, one of the few American indexes that includes telomere length values for study subjects. The index also includes data for 62 activities participants might have engaged in over a 30-day window, which Tucker analysed further to calculate levels of physical activity.
His study found the shortest telomeres came from sedentary people – they had 140 base pairs of DNA less at the end of their telomeres than highly active folks. Surprisingly, he also found there was no significant difference in telomere length between those with low or moderate physical activity and couch potatoes.
Although the exact mechanism for how exercise preserves telomeres is unknown, Tucker said it may be tied to inflammation and oxidative stress. Previous studies have shown telomere length is closely related to these two factors, and it’s known that exercise can suppress inflammation and oxidative stress over time.
“We know that regular physical activity helps to reduce mortality and prolong life, and now we know part of that advantage may be due to the preservation of telomeres,” Tucker concludes.
Source: Brigham Young University