written by member Rahul Gupta, PhD
We all know that exercise is good for us, but you’d be surprised to know that exercise can make you nine years younger! With recent strides in the field of DNA, researchers are beginning to understand how exercise keeps one young!
Telomeres: The Key to Aging and Cancer?
The 2009 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine went to three Americans who discovered telomeres, the genetic code that protects the ends of chromosomes, and telomerase, the enzyme that assists in this process, findings that are important in the study of cancer, aging and stem cells. Elizabeth Blackburn, Carol Greider and Jack Szostak were recognized for research into telomeres – a key chromosome component–and the related enzyme telomerase.
Inside the nucleus of a cell, our genes are arranged along twisted, double-stranded molecules of DNA called chromosomes. At the ends of the chromosomes are stretches of DNA called telomeres, which protect our genetic data, make it possible for cells to divide, and hold some secrets to how we age and get cancer.
Without telomeres, the main part of the chromosome, the part with genes essential for life, would get shorter each time a cell divides and chromosome ends could fuse together and corrupt the cell’s genetic blueprint, possibly causing malfunction, cancer, or cell death. Because broken DNA is dangerous, a cell has the ability to sense and repair chromosome damage. Without telomeres, the ends of chromosomes would look like broken DNA, and the cell would try to fix something that wasn’t broken. That also would make them stop dividing and eventually die. Telomeres allow cells to divide without losing genes. Cell division is necessary for growing new skin, blood, bone, and other cells.
Research study to observe the impact of exercise on DNA
With over 1,200 pairs of twins enrolled in a study, researchers were able to determine the impact of exercise on the telomere length of white blood cells as a measurement of “staying young”. In short, they could measure how exercise can make DNA younger and healthier. The research outcome demonstrated that the length of the telomeres as the most important factor in aging. This is a huge new step in understanding how lifestyle plays a role in aging!
What happens when Telomeres Shorten?
Basically, when telomeres shorten, you age – essentially they are indicators of the
biological clock of the body. Cardiovascular exercise slows the process of the telomere shortening because it ignites the enzyme telomerase which in turn, stabilizes the telomere. Intensive exercise prevented shortening of telomeres, a protective effect against aging of the cardiovascular system, according to research reported in the December 2009 issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association. Not surprisingly, the benefits included lower resting heart rates, lower blood pressure, and less body fat. According to the study, people who engaged in the most exercise had telomeres of similar length to inactive people up to 10 years younger. “This is the first time it has been shown at the molecular level that exercising has an anti-aging effect on the cardiovascular system,” Laufs says, MD, of Homburg, Germany’s Saarland University. American Heart Association spokesman Barry Franklin, PhD, calls the new research “phenomenal”. Researchers believe that shortened telomeres can increase the risk of age-related diseases like high blood pressure, mental difficulties, cancer and more. This is because as telomeres shorten, there is more stress on your body’s tissues to function correctly. Researchers believe that exercise also helps reduce damage by free radicals, allowing your body to invest its resources in maintaining health instead of repairing damage.
Exercises that are good for the DNA
Working up a sweat seems to be important. People who exercised vigorously at least 3 hours each week had longer telomeres and were 9 years younger than couch potatoes who did no exercise. This holds true after removing other factors like smoking, age, weight and activity level at work.
Exercise regularly not just for improving the DNA, but also to feel good and experience all the benefits of exercise. Regular exercise will not only benefit you physically, it can provide emotional and psychological perks as well. In a 1999 study by Duke University researchers James A. Blumenthal and Michael A. Babyak, published in the “Archives of Internal Medicine,” it was found that those who exercised at a moderate intensity of 40 minutes, three to five days per week, experienced the greatest mood-boosting benefits. During exercise, several different chemicals are released into the brain, with a broad range of positive effects. Cardiovascular exercises increase the release endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine in our body. These chemicals are powerful mood and mind boosting substances and work together to make one feel good.
Lynn F. Cherkas, PhD; Janice L. Hunkin, BSc; Bernet S. Kato, PhD; J. Brent Richards, MD; Jeffrey P. Gardner, PhD; Gabriela L. Surdulescu, MSc; Masayuki Kimura, MD, PhD; Xiaobin Lu, MD; Tim D. Spector, MD, FRCP; Abraham Aviv, MD. The Association between Physical Activity in Leisure Time and Leukocyte Telomere Length. Arch Intern Med. 2008;168(2):154-158.