The length of your telomeres can shed light on many things related to your longevity. But what are telomeres and why are they so important?
Telomeres are the caps on the end of our DNA, a little like the plastic tips on the end of shoelaces. Our DNA contains our genetic material and each time a cell replicates our DNA is copied over to the new cell. As our telomeres shorten this impacts how successfully our DNA is transcribed and therefore how quickly our cells age. The cells reach a point where they are unable to carry on replicating properly, known as the Hayflick Limit, and they become senescent. A vital enzyme called telomerase is involved in maintaining the length of your telomeres, to stop them wearing out as fast. Amazing discoveries have been made over the past couple of decades about different ways you can increase your telomerase levels. These include different types of meditation, certain types of diets and exercise. In this article we’re going to focus on the exercise portion and look at the best ways you can maintain your telomere health.
Numerous studies have shown how shortened telomeres have been linked with accelerated cellular aging. In fact, one study from Belgium showed that moderate intensity physical exercsie (45 mins on a stationery bike) was enough to increase the levels of a molecule (nuclear respiratory factor 1) that protects the length of the subjects telomeres. Interestingly enough this factor is also associated with starvation and may go some way to explaining why fasting or lowering caloric intake has been associated with increased longevity.
Another study out of the US showed that people that did the most amount of exercise (30 -40 minutes at least 5 times per week) had the longest telomeres and that there was little difference in telomere length between sedentary individuals and those who performed moderate amounts of exercise. The authors quoted a difference of around 9 years in telomer length between the most active individuals and the most sedentary. The authors believed that the benefits of high levels of exercise protecting telomere length may be to to anti-inflammatory effect and reduction in oxidative stress. Although they concluded that more research was needed to prove this theory.
Another study used High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) to illicit improvements in the levels of the enzyme telomerase and also telomere length as well. Strength training didn’t seem to have any effect on telomere legth in this study.
After reviewing the various studies on physical activity and telomere length, it appears that moderate to high intensity exercise done regularly (3-5 times a week) has been shown to improve the length of your telomeres. This would also indicate that these levels of exercise will be enough to slow down cellular aging and therefore extend your life.