New research from the US and reported in the American press (from which most of this article has been shamefacedly plagiarised) suggests that almost any amount and type of physical activity may slow ageing deep within our cells and starting exercise from the age of 40 has the most profound effect.
Dating a cell’s age is tricky, because its biological and chronological ages rarely match. A cell could be relatively young in terms of how long it has existed but function slowly or erratically, as if elderly so many scientists have begun determining a cell’s biological age — meaning how well it functions and not how old it literally is — by measuring the length of its telomeres.
A telomere is a region of repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromatid, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration or from fusion with neighbouring chromosomes or…… for those who don’t know that much genetics and DNA engineering; they’re like tiny caps found on the end of DNA strands, akin to the end bit of your shoelace. They’re believed to protect the DNA from damage during cell division and replication.
As a cell ages, its telomeres naturally shorten and fray – just like shoelaces. But unlike shoelaces, the process can be accelerated by obesity, smoking, insomnia, diabetes and other aspects of health and lifestyle. In those cases, the affected cells age prematurely.
However, the scientists’ study suggests that exercise may slow the fraying of telomeres. Past studies have found, for instance, that athletes typically have longer telomeres than sedentary people of the same age, as do older women who frequently walk or engage in other fairly moderate exercise, (read previous blog about the benefits of walking) but this study looked far wider.
In this study they found that people who did a variety of exercise were nearly 60% likely to have longer telomeres than someone who participated in a single activity who were 3% likely to have long telomeres than someone who did no exercise at all.
Interestingly, these associations were strongest among people between the ages of 40 and 65, suggesting that middle age may be a key time to begin or maintain an exercise program if you wish to keep telomeres from shrinking.
However, the study was purely associational, so cannot show whether exercise actually causes changes in telomere length, only that people who exercise have longer telomeres.
Perhaps most important, the results from this study don’t tell us whether longer telomeres translate into better health. But other studies have shown that telomeres are predictive of mortality, with shorter telomeres equating to shorter lives.
So the message seems clear; a variety of exercise is good for your cells, a good time to start exercising is in those middle to late years and genetic engineering is as simple as tying your shoelaces!
So go on, elongate those telomeres, your health depends on it!