Exercise slows cellular aging. Higher levels of exercise are associated with a nine year difference in telomere length. So in that sense, it can have an anti-aging effect. But can exercise alone help us to live past the (presumed) maximum lifespan of 120-125 years?
Researchers at Brigham Young University who studied the DNA of nearly 6,000 adults found that the telomeres, the end caps on chromosomes that shorten with age, were longer in people who were active compared to those who were sedentary. This correlates to about 9-year difference in cell aging between those who were active versus those who were inactive. Put another way, the people who exercised were, in terms of their biomarkers, about 9 years younger than those who didn’t.
From the study:
Telomere base pair differences between adults with High activity and those in the Sedentary, Low, and Moderate groups were 140, 137, and 111, respectively.
Adults with High activity were estimated to have a biologic aging advantage of 9years (140 base pairs÷15.6) over Sedentary adults.
The difference in cell aging between those with High and Low activity was also significant, 8.8years, as was the difference between those with High and Moderate PA (physical activity) (7.1years).
Overall, PA was significantly and meaningfully associated with telomere length in U.S. men and women. Evidently, adults who participate in high levels of PA tend to have longer telomeres, accounting for years of reduced cellular aging compared to their more sedentary counterparts.
With That Said…
There was speculation about ten years ago that telomeres were a key driver or aging. This appears not to be they case. But they are still considered an important marker of it. (Note: Other factors which lengthen telomeres include the traditional Chinese herbs astragalus and ashwagandha. Nutrients found in seaweed and in green and white tea are also associated with longer telomeres.)
What About its Other Benefits?
Exercise has numerous benefits unrelated to the telomeres, including:
- It boosts mood
- It improves sleep
- Some types of exercise appear to be beneficial for heart health.
- Some types help us fare better when exposed to respiratory pathogens.
- It’s anti-inflammatory
- It improves immune health.
- It improves cognitive function. Some studies suggest that it may slow the progression of Alzheimer’s and dementia.
With That Said…
…there’s actually no direct evidence that I’m aware of that exercise will help us live longer than the current presumed maximum of around 120 years. Exercising may push back against some of the symptoms of aging, but it won’t greatly extend the lifespan. But it can slow aging significantly, which could in theory help keep us around and healthy enough to take advantage of other breakthroughs.
Here’s a video I did a few months ago looking at my own experiences with exercising: