Getting old has always been perceived as inevitable process of life, but increasingly studies has shown otherwise. As scientist push forward frontiers of the molecular and genetic research, ageing is now seen as disease that starts to ravage our bodies in the late 20s and eventually leading to our death, in Australia around late 70s.
Putting it simply, as we age our cells becomes less and less efficient in repairing oxidative damage resulting from free radicals.
In each of our cells is our genetic makeup, DNA that are organised into chromosomes. Every time a new cell divides, the chromosomes inside it have to duplicate for the new cell to function correctly. At the end of each chromosome is a telomere, responsible for protecting chromosome from damage or duplicating DNA incorrectly. However each time cell divides, the telomeres get a little bit shorter, a bit more damaged, until it becomes too short to do its job the chromosomes start to fray and the cell can no longer duplicate and either dies or develop disease like cancer. As more and more cells die off or fail to replicate correctly we age, develop various diseases and eventually die.
However, telomeres don’t shorten at the same rate, thus cells don’t die off at the same rate, and the latest scientific research seems to point that level of physical activity is one major factor that can slow down the rate at which telomeres shorten.
Recent study published in The Lancet Oncology journal, involved a group of 10 men who participated in a five year trial, during that time, participants made changes to their lifestyle that included daily exercise regime of 30 minutes, healthy diet and stress management. Participants who made those lifestyle changes showed increase in their telomeres length by 10%, on the other hand men who stuck to a more sedentary lifestyle had their telomeres shrink by 3% over the same period of time.
Another study published in 2008, refers to 2,401 participants tested by professor of genetic epidemiology at King’s College, London. Subjects who engaged in 100 minutes of exercise a week tended to have telomeres lengths of people five to six years younger.
While studies may indicate that exercise can lead to lengthening of telomeres does that actually lead to slow down of the ageing process?
Professor Fadi Charchar from the School of Health Sciences, at the Federation University Australia seems to think that there is a close link. Prof. Charchar’s research shows that the 11 percent improvement in telomeres length detected in the runners in his study can on average add approximately 16 years to life expectancy. “This is called biological age and its workout out based on average telomeres length in thousands of people. So we can work out how many DNA base parts are lost as you age and work out an average estimate based on this”.
Further research is needed to better understand the correlation between level of physical activity and ageing process but I think we can safely say that sedentary lifestyle that most of Australian population lead in the 21st century cannot be anything but detrimental to the long term health. As long as people engage in the safe exercise choices, within their capabilities, use professional advice and maintain healthy diet, health benefits will surely be evident, and it’s never too late to start.
Just ask yourself a question, have you ever met anyone who is smoking, eating junk food and leading sedentary lifestyle looking 10 years younger than his peers.