Telomeres are the short stranded caps at the ends of our DNA. Just as gloves and shoes are to our hands and feet, telomeres are the same to our chromosomes. Each individual cell in our body contains these bundles of DNA that appear to indicate our potential for aging into the golden years. There is a great deal of emerging research into the arena of telomere length and aging. In fact, the Nobel Prize was recently awarded to a group who discovered them.
Each time one of our cells divide, our telomeres shorten. Over the span of a lifetime, our telomeres slowly will shrink and appear to be involved in not only how long we live, but how well we live.
Don’t we have enough things on our bodies that shorten as we age! Our hair follicles, our stature, our attention spans and now this!
The good news is that telomere shortening is not an entirely passive process. Just as our lifestyles (aka diet, exercise, and nutrient supplementation) have an effect on our genes and whether the healthy ones are expressed or those that are unhealthy (ie linked to cancer or heart disease) are expressed, our lifestyles also affect the length of our telomeres according to recent research.
Healthy lifestyle factors (i.e., lower BMI, more exercise, tobacco abstinence, diets high in fruit and vegetables), according to recent research, actually lengthens our telomeres (1,2).
We already know that regular exercise helps in several areas including:
1) Decrease risk for developing Diabetes and improved control in those who have it
2) Lower risk for heart disease
3) Improve mood and cognitive function
4) Increase circulation and lower blood pressure
5) Improve lean muscle mass and lower body fat percentage
6) Improve quality of Life
Stay tuned as developing research into the science of telomeres emerges, perhaps providing further insight into the aging process.
For now we have additional ammunition in our quest for health and longevity. After all, much of our enjoyment in life really is about staying healthy as long as possible to really enjoy the quality time with our loved ones and friends.
Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: October 2008 – Volume 40 – Issue 10 – pp 1764-1771
Aging Cell. 2009 Aug;8(4):405-13. Epub 2009 Jun 1