The dawn of a new year is an undeniable reminder of time rushing by and birthdays stacking up like old race bibs. However, as runners, our hobby could actually help us be “younger” than what the calendar says—by nine years! While not exactly a perpetual fountain of youth, feeling almost 10 years younger sounds good to us. This positive scientific discovery has to do with telomeres.
Located inside the nucleus of our cells, telomeres are part of those twisted strands of DNA called chromosomes. The telomeres are at the ends of chromosomes, kind of like the plastic tips on shoelaces. Cells are constantly regenerating, and each time a cell divides telomeres get shorter, which correlates directly to aging. Shorter telomeres are also an indicator of increased cancer risk and death.
Brigham Young University exercise science professor Larry Tucker discovered that those who consistently exercise at a higher level have longer telomeres than people who lead sedentary or even moderately active lives. The nine-year biological age advantage is for consistent exercisers over those with a sedentary lifestyle. Even a moderately active lifestyle resulted in a seven-year advantage over being sedentary. For the purposes of this research, “consistent, high level exercise” was 30 minutes of jogging five days a week for women and 40 minutes of jogging five days a week for men.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) conducts a National Health and Examination Survey, and one of the pieces of data collected is telomere length. Tucker analyzed the data and responses from 5,823 adults who participated in the survey to determine his findings, which were recently published in Preventive Medicine. The specific reason for the cellular-level boost is not yet known, but Tucker suggested it could be connected to the reduced inflammation and oxidative stress levels that come with regular exercise.
Whatever the exact reason, science is confirming what runners already know: Running does a body good.