Can Exercise Fight the Aging Process?

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To the long list of benefits already attributed to exercising regularly, it may now be possible to add that it literally keeps a person younger.

In a study published in January in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, researchers gave questionnaires to and collected DNA samples from 2,401 white twins. The researchers then analyzed the DNA to determine the length of repeated sequences of nucleic acids called telomeres that are located at the ends of chromosomes and that shorten over time in cells that divide. The length of the telomeres in blood cells are believed to correspond with a person’s biological age.

The researchers found that, overall, study participants who reported being more physically active in their leisure time had longer telomeres in their white blood cells than those who reported less activity. In sets of twins who had different activity levels, the more active twins also had longer telomeres than the less active twins. This association held true after the researchers took into consideration the participants’ age, sex, body-mass index, smoking, socioeconomic status, and physical activity at work. The people who were the most active (reporting more than 3 hours of physical activity per week) had telomeres the same length as inactive people up to 10 years younger.

The researchers suggested that exercise’s potential to reduce oxidative stress and the resulting damage to cells may give it a protective effect against the aging process. They concluded that an inactive lifestyle may accelerate the aging process and, conversely, that regular exercise may have an anti-aging effect.

In another study published in the same issue of Archives of Internal Medicine, a system set up to help doctors discuss nutrition and physical activity goals with their patients helped overweight people with Type 2 diabetes become more active and lose weight. One group of participants received customized nutrition and activity goals from a computer program, and these goals were reviewed with the group members by their doctors at visits. The other group only received printed health education materials.

Over the course of a year, the members of the group whose doctors reviewed goals with them increased their activity more and lost more weight than the group that didn’t have this extra interaction. The study highlighted that increased communication between people and their health-care providers can help people make changes in their lifestyles.

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