We’ve all heard of the various ways to “age gracefully”, from getting checked for nagging issues to learning new things. But did you know there’s a way to literally become younger as you grow older? While that sounds like a bad joke, we’re completely serious. It doesn’t just make you feel younger, it actually makes your cells biologically younger. While this may seem like a revolutionary new treatment, it’s actually been hiding under our noses the entire time. The answer to extended youth is really simple: aerobic workouts. While physical activity is good for you, aerobic workouts may take it one step further.
Aerobic workouts have been found to make your cells biologically younger, through increasing the length of your telomeres. But what are telomeres?
Simply put, they play an important role in cellular ageing. Telomeres are caps at the end of our DNA strands that protect our chromosomes from damage. Without telomeres, our DNA becomes damaged, which may be one of the causes of ageing. These telomeres don’t last forever and their length may be a way to measure the cell’s biological age.
The length of these telomeres may be shortened or lengthened through various means. For example, continuous cell division eventually shortens your telomeres. Your lifestyle choices, such as exercising, may be able to lengthen them.
A study was published in the European Heart Journal, in which 124 participants were recruited to test out the effects of different forms of exercise on their telomeres. The participants chosen were healthy, but inactive. Various aspects of their health were tested, including their fitness level, telomeres length and telomerase activity. Telomerase is an enzyme that extends the telomeres of chromosomes.
These participants were split into multiple groups. One group was given no lifestyle change, others did aerobic workouts in the form of continuous running, 4×4 HIIT training and lastly, resistance training. The groups who were tasked to exercise were trained for 45 minutes, 3 times a week for 6 months.
What researchers found was that there was a noticeable difference between the exercising groups. Those who did HIIT or aerobic workouts all had longer telomeres and higher telomerase activity. Meanwhile, those who did resistance training had telomeres similar or shorter than those in the control group. However, all of them had a lower BMI than before.
According to a report in the New York Times, Dr. Christian Werner, a cardiologist and researcher at the University of Saarland in Germany, who led the new study, said: “In the parameters we looked at, endurance exercise was clearly ahead of resistance training.”
The reasons might lie with differences in intensity, he adds. “Even though resistance exercise was strenuous,” he says, “the mean pulse rate was much lower than with running,” resulting in slighter blood flow and probably less physiological response from the blood vessels themselves. Those who did resistance training would have produced less of a substance, nitric oxide, that is thought to affect the activity of telomerase and contribute to lengthening telomeres.
But the findings do not indicate that weight training does not combat ageing, he says. Like the other workouts, it improved people’s fitness, he says, which is one of the most important indicators of longevity.
Overall, he says, the results underscore that differing types of exercise almost certainly lead to potentially synergistic impacts on our cells and bodily systems. In future studies, he and his colleagues would like to study the cellular effects of various combinations of endurance and strength training.
“From an evolutionary perspective, endurance and high intensity training may mimic the advantageous travelling and fight or flight behaviour of our ancestors better than strength training,” he said in a report in Yahoo News.