Aerobic Exercise Eases Aging

Aerobic exercise like jogging, or intervals of jogging and walking, can make our cells biologically younger. That’s the finding of a new study published in November in the European Heart Journal.

Researchers speculated that the most pervasive anti-aging effects of exercise may occur at the tips of our chromosomes, capped with tiny bits of matter known as telomeres. They seem to protect our DNA from damage during cell division, but after shorten and fray as a cell ages. Many scientists believe that telomere length is a useful measure of a cell’s functional age. Telomeres, however, can be lengthened or shortened by one’s lifestyle.

To test their hypothesis, researchers recruited 124 middle-aged men and women who were healthy but did not exercise. One-third started a supervised program of brisk walking or jogging. Another third worked out on a circuit of muscle-building machines like ours three times a week. One-third continued their customary lifestyle without exercising. Each group continued these patterns for six months.

The results showed that all volunteers who exercised in any way became more aerobically fit. But there were sizable differences at a molecular level. Those who had jogged, or alternated jogging and walking, had much longer telomeres in their white blood cells. The weight trainers did not. Their telomeres resembled those in the control group who did not exercise.

The message from this study is that exercise of any kind may slow the aging process. It’s not too late to keep your cells young. Even seven minutes alternating jogging for 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds of walking will help. Just that can improve your quality of life whatever your age may be.

-- Norm Thomas