Research highlights the importance of physical activity, having found that very active people can set back their biological age by several years.
According to researchers, running for 30 to 40 minutes, 5 days a week reduces cell aging by 9 years. A researcher from Brigham Young University in Provo, found that this type of regular exercise for 5 days a week can reduce telomere shortening and thus decrease cellular aging by 9 years.
Telomeres are the protective caps at the ends of chromosomes, threadlike structures of cells that contain our DNA. They are often compared to the plastic tips on the end of shoelaces because they prevent the ends of chromosomes from fraying and sticking to other chromosomes. Telomeres are considered a marker of biological age. As we age, the length of telomeres shortens. When telomeres become too short, they are no longer able to protect the chromosomes, which can cause cells to stop functioning and die. In other words, each time a cell divides, these sections naturally shorten. When the telomere length reaches a certain threshold, the cell becomes senescent, that is, it can no longer divide and dies.
The size of our telomeres partly in our hands
Poor lifestyle habits, such as lack of exercise, can also contribute to telomere shortening by causing oxidative stress, which is the body’s inability to compensate for cell damage caused by free radicals. . The cells of our body are put to the test throughout our lives. Environmental factors, such as ultraviolet rays, poor diet and alcohol, as well as psychological factors, including stress, expose our cells to significant damage. These factors damage the DNA of our cells and predispose us to cancer and other diseases.
Fortunately, we have sophisticated biological systems to counter this damage. One such mechanism is involved in cellular aging, ensuring that individual cells live a certain time before dying.
How do telomeres work? And why do some people age faster than others?
This conducted by Professor Larry Tucker of the Department of Exercise Science at Brigham demonstrates how important physical activity is for protection against cellular aging. The results were published recently in the journal Preventative Medicine.
For his study, Professor Tucker analyzed data from 5,823 adults who participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2002. The researcher examined the telomere length of each participant. Additionally, it looked at the subjects’ participation in 62 physical activities over a 30-day period, using this information to calculate their level of physical activity.
Compared to sedentary participants, those who were very active had a telomere length representing a biological age of 9 years younger, and a biological age of 7 years younger than those who were moderately active. Thirty minutes of jogging per day, 5 days per week, was considered very active for women, while 40 minutes of jogging per day, 5 days per week, was considered very active for men.
Professor Tucker says he was surprised to find that the length of telomeres between sedentary participants and those who were moderately active was not significantly different. This indicates that to protect against cellular aging, it is best to practice very regular physical activity.
Factors that influence biological age
Telomere length can be used to indicate an individual’s biological age (which is different from chronological age). Scientists now know that many factors including exercise, sleep, depression and certain genetic mutations are associated with reduced telomere length and, by extension, can lead to premature biological aging.
For example, a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics shows that children who lost their fathers had significantly shorter telomeres. Similarly, a systematic review published in the September 2017 issue of the Journal of Psychiatric Research also shows an association between childhood adversity, including violence, institutionalization and poverty, and shorter telomeres.
Physical activity and telomere length in US men and women: An NHANES investigation