New research: long-term physical activity slows aging on the cellular level

Thursday, December 17, 2009 by: S. L. Baker, features writer
Tags: telomeres, anti-aging, health news

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(NaturalNews) Telomeres, regions of DNA which protect the ends of chromosomes from destruction, have made big news in 2009. In fact, the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded this year to researchers who investigated the nature of telomeres. Why all the interest? It appears telomeres hold the key to why we age because when a cell becomes old and dies, it's due to the shortening of chromosomal telomeres. So, if you could keep the length of telomeres from changing, that might literally halt aging. And now comes research showing there is a natural way to impact telomeres and produce an anti-aging effect -- long-term physical activity.

According to research just reported in the journal Circulation, intensive exercise can prevent a shortening of telomeres. That, the scientists found, results in a protective effect against aging on a cellular level and could be especially important in keeping the cardiovascular system healthy. So, while you can slather on expensive creams and opt for plastic surgery, if you want to actually slow down aging, your best bet is to get moving and exercise regularly.

A research team from Saarland University in Homburg, Germany, measured the length of telomeres in blood samples from a group of 32 professional runners with an average age of 20 who were on the German National Team of Track and Field. The young men regularly trained by running about 73 kilometers (km) -- a little over 45 miles -- each week. The scientists also measured the length of telomeres from the blood of middle-aged athletes (average age 51) who had participated in continuous endurance exercise since their youth and who ran about 80 km, or almost 50 miles, per week. These findings were then compared to the telomere lengths found in a group of healthy non-smokers, matched for age with the athletes, who didn't exercise regularly.

The results? The scientists discovered that long-term exercise training activated an enzyme known as telomerase which reduces telomere shortening in human leukocytes (white blood cells). Telomere loss was found to be far lower in the older, master athletes who had been exercising for decades. Bottom line: the rate of telomere loss that is assumed to be normal as we grow older and that leads to the physical signs of aging can, in fact, be dramatically slowed through long term, vigorous exercise.

"This is direct evidence of an anti-aging effect of physical exercise. Physical exercise could prevent the aging of the cardiovascular system, reflecting this molecular principle," Ulrich Laufs, M.D., the study's lead author and professor of clinical and experimental medicine in the department of internal medicine at Saarland University, said in a statement to the media. "The most significant finding of this study is that physical exercise of the professional athletes leads to activation of the important enzyme telomerase and stabilizes the telomere."

What's more, previous animal studies by Dr. Laufs and colleagues have shown that exercise exerts effects on proteins that not only stabilize telomeres but also protect cells from deterioration and programmed cell death. "Our data improves the molecular understanding of the protective effects of exercise on the vessel wall and underlines the potency of physical training in reducing the impact of age-related disease," Dr. Laufs concluded.

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