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“Telomeres,” pronounced “tel-uh-meers,” are caps at the end of strands of DNA within our cells. You might think of them as something like the plastic tips at the end of your running shoelaces. Without a strong tip, a shoelace gradually frays.

People who did better on a fitness test and reported more activity had longer telomeres

Telomeres protect DNA strands throughout your body, and so affect how quickly you age. In a 2008 landmark study published in Lancet Oncology, Dr. Ornish and colleagues showed that three months of Ornish Lifestyle Medicine improved the telomere function of immune cells in a group of men with low-risk prostrate cancer. In October 2013, also in Lancet Oncology, the team reported that five years later, the men who had gone through the program had better telomere function than men in the control group.

Now new evidence is further supporting that exercise makes a big difference, whether you’re an athlete or simply work out. In a 2016 study published in The International Journal of Sport Physiology and Performance scientists in Spain examined the telomeres in the white blood cells of 61 elite athletes in their twenties. They found that the athletes had much more impressive telomeres than a group of twenty-somethings who didn’t exercise.

In another 2016 study published in Health Promotion Perspectives, a research team in Mississippi drew from data on more than 1800 adults aged 20 to 49 who answered questions about how often they did “moderate-to-vigorous” exercise, took a treadmill test and gave blood. It turned out that people who did better on the fitness test and reported more activity had longer telomeres in their white blood cells.

Scientists are beginning to drill down to see how exercise does its magic on cells. Just last month, on February 6, 2017, the journal Experimental Physiology reported on research with mice demonstrating that running on treadmills actually remodels heart tissue. The multi-site team took measurements of proteins involved with DNA before and immediately after the mice ran on a treadmill for an hour. It turned out that the exercise boosted the action of genes that protect the telomeres, and ultimately the heart.

Think of those mice next time you’re on a treadmill, or even better, running on a beach or grassy track. Pushing up your heart rate in 180 minutes of exercise each week will keep your cellular running shoelaces strong, so to speak.

Go beyond exercise and learn how you can better manage stress and find social support,  and your telomeres will flourish.

What can you do to strengthen your telomeres?

 

Contributed by

Phil Hardesty
Exercise Physiologist

Have a healthy, happy and fit week!!

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