Did you know that regular workouts actually reduce cellular aging caused by stress? A new study has found that even a moderate amount of exercise protects telomeres, or the strips of DNA that cover the ends of our chromosomes. During stress, telomeres shrink and cause our cells to age. This aging can lead to health problems like diabetes and heart disease.
Dr. Eli Puterman of the University of California in San Francisco led the study, which appears in the online journal PLoS ONE. He and his colleagues found that just 42 minutes of vigorous exercise over a 3-day period is enough to protect telomeres from the destructive effects of stress.
The researchers enrolled 62 post-menopausal women for the study. Many of the participants were caregivers for patients with dementia. Each day the women reported the number of minutes they exercised vigorously enough to sweat and/or increase their heart rate. They reported their perceived stress levels during the previous month. The women also gave blood samples so that the scientists could measure their immune cells’ telomere length. The results showed that only the sedentary women under high stress had shorter telomeres. The active women under similar stress, however, did not show a shortening of telomeres. We now know there is a definite link between psychological stress and cellular aging. There is also evidence that we can do something about it, if we maintain a recommended activity level. The study suggests that those who report more stress are also less likely to exercise.
Perhaps if we knew our own telomere length, we might be motivated to exercise more. This is the next question the researchers will try to answer. In the meantime, think of exercise as a kind of vaccine against aging. Clearly, there are hidden benefits to breaking a sweat.