Does Physical Activity slow the aging process?

Almost any amount of Physical Activity may slow aging at a cellular level, and middle age may be a critical time to prevent your body from aging, at least according to one common measure of cell aging – telomere length.

Telomeres are combinations of DNA and protein that protect the ends of chromosomes and help them remain stable. As we get older telomeres fray and become shorter and our cells begin to age and die more quickly. Shorter telomeres have become associated with numerous aging-related diseases including cardiovascular disease, stroke, obesity, osteoporosis, diabetes, vascular dementia, and many forms of cancer. Recent science suggests that Physical Activity may slow the fraying of telomeres, helping to maintain telomere length and slow cell aging.

A new study, published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, looked at the interactions of Physical Activity and telomere length among 6503 American men and women, ranging in age from 20 to 84.

The researchers categorised the participants into four groups, based on how they had responded to questions about their Physical Activity. Participants scored a point if they had engaged in each of the following four types of Physical Activity in the past month: moderate-intensity activity, vigorous-intensity activity, muscle-strengthening activities, or walking or cycling for transport. The points tally was then compared to the participant’s telomere length.

For every point scored from any of the four types of Physical Activity, risk of having unusually short telomeres decreased significantly.

Specifically, participants who engaged in a single activity, earning them one point, were about 3% less likely to have short telomeres than someone who did no Physical Activity. Those who did two types of Physical Activity were 24% less likely to have short telomeres, three types were 29% less likely and those reporting four types of Physical Activity were 59% less likely to have short telomeres.

These associations were strongest amongst participants aged 40-65 years, suggesting middle age may be a key time to start or maintain a Physically Active lifestyle and maintain your telomere length.

Although this study doesn’t show that Physical Activity causes changes in telomere length, it does show us that people who are active do have longer telomeres than those who aren’t. It also can’t tell us exactly how much activity we need to do to maintain the length of our telomeres. But, the message is clear – Physical Activity is good for our cells and the more we do in greater variety is likely to be even better.

Physical Activity has many dimensions, each known to have clear biological and health benefits. The personalised multidimensional physical activity profiles visualised in the KiActiv system, created by our partners at the University of Bath, give you a unique insight into your body and your lifestyle. They enhance understanding and inspire confidence to change and optimise your individual physical activity, so you choose what types of Physical Activity you want to do to improve your health and even slow the aging process.

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