You don’t have to look far for the fountain of youth. It is within you. One of the best habits you can develop to live a healthy long life is to exercise regularly. Fit people just look healthy don’t they? And, they are. Exercise gets to our DNA. It keeps telomeres longer for a longer period of time. As a result exercise slows aging. Exercise is not a quick fix some are looking for, but it works.
We have discussed telomeres in several articles. Telomeres are repetitive DNA sequences that cap the ends of our chromosomes which carry our genetic code. Telomeres protect chromosomes much like aglets, those tiny plastic pieces that protect the ends of shoelaces. Our cells periodically divide to repair damaged tissue. Each time a cell divides its telomeres get shorter like a wick burning in a candle.
Once telomeres get to a critical short length that cell can no longer divide and becomes senescent. The more chronic and acute illness we have the more our cells need to divide to repair and regenerate. Thus, telomeres become shorter more rapidly. Disease forces us to exhaust the length of our telomeres prematurely. And, that’s how we age.
A key to healthy living is keeping telomeres as long as possible and prevent pre-mature shortening. Healthy aging is dying at the slowest rate possible. Exercise keeps telomeres longer. Exercise slows aging at the cellular level.
How Much Exercise to Protect Telomeres?
A study from Brigham Young University found that people who exercise at high levels have a biological age of nine years younger than those who were inactive. That part may not be too surprising.
But, what may be surprising is the difference in telomere length between those exercise at high level and those who exercise at moderate levels. Those who exercised at a high level had a biologic age seven years younger than those who exercised at a moderate level. So how much exercise matters.
The study did not address intensity of exercise but rather duration and frequency and it did not look at affects of strength training. It also relied on self reports of exercise from 5,823 adults ages 20 to 84 enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES).
So how much is a high level of exercise?
For women 30 minutes of aerobic exercise at least five days a week is recommended. For men 40 minutes of aerobic exercise at least five days a week is recommended. So if you really want to make an impact on your longevity you may need to exercise more than you are currently.
Exercise and Lifespan
There are other studies that have linked exercise to longer lifespan. One large study on 654,827 participants ages 21 to 90 was published in 2012 out of Harvard University. The researchers found that the equivalent of brisk walking up to 75 minutes a day was associated with a gain of 1.8 years in life expectancy compared to those who did not exercise.
Those who did the equivalent of brisk walking for up to 150 minutes a week saw a gain in life expectancy of 3.4 years. And, those who did the equivalent of brisk walking for more for more than 450 minutes a week lived 4.5 years longer. This study did not look at telomere length.
Quality of Life and Exercise