Researchers from Brigham Young University in Utah determined that regular exercise can prolong life and make people look younger. They concluded that running 30 to 40 minutes five days per week would increase the person’s “biological aging advantage” by nine years.

Image credit: Texas Rock Gym
Image credit: Texas Rock Gym

Apparently, higher levels of physical activity result in the subject having longer telomeres compared to those that maintain sedentary lives.

Elevated levels of exercise make us live longer

Telomeres can be seen as our biological clocks, but actually they are the outermost parts of our chromosomes. As cells divide, telomeres become shorter, which is directly associated to how we age with time.

The study, led by Professor Larry Tucker, included data from 5,823 adults provided by the CDC after they participated in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The survey collected biological data as well as how they lived their lives in a 30-day period, with a focus on physical activity.

Results showed that individuals with the shortest telomeres were also those that performed the least amount of physical activity. On the other hand, researchers are still not sure how exercise prevents telomeres from getting shorter. Professor Tucker believes that it could have something to do with reduced cell inflammation and stress caused by a lack of oxygen in the bloodstream. This is supported by previous studies which show that exercise does reduce stress in cells and improves oxygen intake.

Image credit: Shutterstock / Today
Image credit: Shutterstock / Today

It seems that low amounts of exercise are not enough to achieve a significant increase in lifespan. The change was due to participants being “highly active,” resulting in a nine-year advantage compared to sedentary people and a seven-year advantage compared to those classified as “moderately active.” The study shows that women should partake in an equivalent to 30 minutes of daily jogging, 40 minutes for men.

Telomeres may tell us more about ourselves

Telomere length is still a mystery to researchers. Some believe that it might be the key to aging and cancer. One can think of telomeres as the plastic tips in shoelaces, which keep the structure of the chromosomes intact. If the telomere becomes too short, the cell is unable to divide, becoming inactive and dying shortly.

In newborn babies, telomeres are between 8,000 and 3,000 base pairs long, while older adults have them at around 1,500. Each time a cell divides, it loses between 30 and 200 base pairs off the ends of its telomeres, allowing each cell to divide at least 50 times before becoming inactive.

If telomeres are compromised, chromosomes could fuse with each other, causing severe conditions such as cancer and cellular death. When cells become cancerous, they divide more often, meaning that their telomeres become shorter more quickly. Most cancers are characterized by shorter telomere length and measuring telomerase, the enzyme that protects telomere length is one of the ways doctors can determine if a patient has cancer. A lack of telomerase is known to cause infertility, lack of cellular healing, and disruption in the production of red and white blood cells.

Source: Brigham Young University