Why exercise may add 9 ‘biological’ years of life

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Never believe working out and breaking a sweat is a waste of time.  It looks like physical activity is the true ‘fountain of youth.’  New research, to be published in the July issue of the journal Preventive Medicine, is suggesting regular, strenuous exercise significantly slows down biological aging.  If you are that rare person who works out faithfully, just because your birthday says you’re a certain age, doesn’t mean your body has accepted that.

Researchers analyzed data from a survey of more than 5,800 Americans.  Those who consistently had high levels of physical activity had much longer “telomeres” than those who were moderately active or inactive.  A telomere is a region of repetitive DNA or a protein endcap on a chromosome, which protects the end of the chromosome from deterioration.  Every time a cell replicates, a tiny bit of the endcap is lost.  That means the older you get, the shorter your telomeres.

But, for adults who embrace high levels of physical activity and do it on a consistent, regular basis, their telomeres showed seven years less aging when compared to people who exercised moderately.  And when compared to inactive adults, the advantage was even more pronounced at a nine year difference. 

The study authors defined “highly active” as women who exercised at least 30 minutes, or men who exercised at least 40 minutes of jogging a day, five days a week.  Like Larry Tucker, a professor of exercise science at Brigham Young University in Utah stated, “If you want to see a real difference in slowing your biological aging, it appears that a little exercise won’t cut it.  You have to work out regularly at high levels.”

It is to be noted that this study does not prove that exercise delays telomere shortening.   But at the same time, it is known that regular exercise has a long association with reducing mortality and prolonging life.  And now it looks like a part of that may have to do with the preservation of our telomeres.