Our time on this Earth is a finite resource and people will try anything to make it last longer. Anti-aging creams, lotions, meditation, incantations, there’s always something new claiming to have power over the invisible hourglass representing our lives. Scientists are now chiming in with their own solution, which is a bit more practical and involves a bit of sweat.
“Just because you’re 40, doesn’t mean you’re 40 years old biologically”, explained Professor Larry Tucker from the Department of Exercise Sciences at Brigham Young University. “We all know people that seem younger than their actual age. The more physically active we are, the less biological aging takes place in our bodies”.
In his study, Tucker examined data from 5,823 adults participating in the CDC’s National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), one of the few indexes that includes telomere length values. Telomeres are repetitive nucleotide sequences at each end of a chromosome, protecting the molecule that contains the genetic material from deterioration each time it replicates. With each repetition of this biological process, the strand becomes shorter, losing a bit of length during the cycle. Telomeres are closely linked with age.
The investigation showed that sedentary people had shorter telomeres, with about 140 base pairs of DNA less at the end of their telomeres compared to highly active individuals. Surprisingly, those with low or moderate physical activity had about the same length as sedentary people.
Adults that engaged in high levels of physical activity displayed telomeres with a biological aging advantage of nine years over those who are sedentary, and a seven-year advantage compared to those who are moderately active. To be considered highly active, men had to spend about 40 minutes jogging each day, while for women it was half an hour, five days a week.
While the exact mechanism behind this phenomenon remains unclear, Tucker speculates it might have to do with inflammation and oxidative stress. Previous research has highlighted a connection between telomere length and these factors.
“We know that regular physical activity helps to reduce mortality and prolong life, and now we know part of that advantage may be due to the preservation of telomeres”, noted Prof. Tucker.
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