Everyone knows that exercise is good for health: after all, it not only does the obvious (burns calories and builds strength), it furthermore helps balance hormones, lifts mood, and fights depression. Did you know that it also has a role in maintaining memory and cognitive function as we age? A new study has shed light on yet another interesting way that exercise helps keep one young. Researchers recently found that physical activity may help preserve telomeres, the strands of DNA at the end of chromosomes that protect genetic material from unraveling (like the plastic tips on the ends of shoelace). Each time a cell divides (a process that happens during cellular growth or repair), telomeres in that cell get a tiny bit shorter as DNA is lost, and shorter telomeres = faster aging. The cell is programmed to die when telomeres get too short. The cumulative effect of this process in cells throughout the body manifests as diseases of aging, and this is the reason for the preponderance of studies connecting telomere length with conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, cancer, arthritis, and other degenerative diseases.
Fortunately, there are ways to protect these cellular “clocks.” Recent research suggests that a sedentary lifestyle is associated with shorter telomeres. In one study, scientists observed 1,481 older women (average age was 79 years old) and correlated telomere length with sedentary time. They found that among generally inactive women, the more sedentary the lifestyle, the shorter the telomeres (meaning they were aging faster). However - despite stretches of time engaged in sedentary activities (working at a desk, for example) - engaging in moderate-to-vigorous physical activity somewhat regularly appears to offer protection against shorter telomeres. In other words, 30 minutes of activity in a day despite inactivity most of the rest of the day (as in working at a computer or watching TV) did not contribute to cellular aging. From a cellular standpoint, it truly does appear that a little exercise goes a long way.
Interested in knowing your true biological age? Find out with our Telomere Test.