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The benefits of exercise on ageing - how your genes change when you exercise

Ageing is inevitable, but researchers at Brigham Young University (BYU) have found a way to slow it down by nine years – at least on a biological level. Biological age, as opposed to chronological age, reflects key indicators (or ‘biomarkers’) of an ageing body such as the condition of organs, cholesterol level, metabolism and muscle strength. So, you could have just celebrated your 45th birthday, but your biomarkers could be indicating that your body is in the condition typical of a 55-year-old.


Turning back the clock


However, the good news is you can rewind the biological clock by simply increasing your level of physical activity. A 2017 study led by Professor Larry Tucker at BYU 1 found that people who are consistently ‘highly active’ hold a biological ageing advantage of nine years over people with sedentary lifestyles. This means that the highly active individuals were nine years younger on a cellular level than their chronological age, thus meaning they had a reduced risk of age-related disease and decline. The answer to how exercise can turn back the clock lies in our DNA.


How exercise changes our DNA


You may not have heard of telomeres, but we all have them in our DNA. They’re microscopic proteins which ‘cap’ each end of our chromosomes like a sealant protecting the chromosomes from deterioration. With natural ageing, these telomeres become shorter and less able to protect the cell within, leading to gradual cell deterioration and reduced function of the organs and tissues. However, regular endurance exercise such as running was found to actually preserve the length of telomeres, which are then able to protect the cells for longer, therefore reducing biological ageing.2


Does moderate exercise have a similar effect?


Unfortunately, the study showed that the anti-ageing benefits of exercise only applied to those people in the ‘highly active’category. ‘Highly active’ equates to 30 minutes of running, five days a week for women, and 40 minutes of running, five days a week for men. The study indicated that moderate activity wasn’t much more effective in preserving telomere length than being sedentary, but don’t let that put you off exercise! Even moderate exercise has a huge range of benefits, from better cardiovascular health, improved mood and stronger muscles and bones. However, if you want to enjoy a biological age of up to nine years younger - and stay fit and active well into older age - then it might be time to schedule in a run every weekday.

Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.

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Sources

  1. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2017.04.027.
  2. https://news.byu.edu/news/high-levels-exercise-linked-nine-years-less-aging-cellular-level.

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