To age gracefully, a desire many women have. But what exactly is aging? If we go to the science, one key process involved in aging is the shortening of telomeres (1). Telomeres function to protect the ends of our chromosomes. Data has suggested physically inactive people are at risk for accelerated shortening of telomere length (8). Similarly, information from pulse wave velocity (PWV) data suggest a relationship with aerobic activity and age-related health parameters, such as arterial stiffening (2). PWV is the rate at which pressure waves move through vessels. Arterial stiffening is the thickening (or stiffening) of the arterial wall and is related to high blood pressure or hypertension. As we age, arterial stiffening increases, causing increased speed of pressure waves leading to more work on the cardiovascular system. Some studies have shown aerobic exercise has increased telomere length for study groups including men and women (9). However, there is little data investigating the effect of increased physical activity on solely middle-aged women – a vital time for onset degenerative disease (6). One study decided to fill in the gaps and provide insight on the effects of aerobic exercise on telomere length in middle-aged women.
Did they discover a way for us to age gracefully?
Let’s take a look at the science:
Researchers conducted a study (2019) to investigate the effect of moderate endurance training on telomere length in 275 middle-aged women over the span of 6 months. All women were randomly placed in an exercise training or a waiting-control group. The exercise training group was required to perform a minimum of 3 training sessions (≥20 minutes long) to total 210 minutes of endurance training per week. Researches measured maximum oxygen uptake (VO2peak), power output (Pmax) and telomere length. VO2peak levels give an idea about the maximal capacity of the heart to deliver blood. Power output levels provide insight into an individual’s athletic performance through the energy that is being created. (1)
So, what did they find?
Overall, this study found that telomere length was not significantly effected by moderate aerobic exercise intervention (1). Similarly, a 2013 study (4) also concluded no effect of aerobic exercise on post-menopausal women’s telomere length. Let’s take a look at the graph below. Starting with Figure 1 (a), we can see telomere length for both the Exercise and Control group. Researchers found no significant difference between groups for telomere length, meaning, overall, the exercise group did not increase their telomere length significantly more than the control group. That being said, we see an asterisk (*) above the Exercise group. The asterisk means there was a significant difference with-in the exercise group itself. The telomere length for the exercise group was found to have significantly increased after the 6 month intervention. However, the same was not true for the control group – showing no significant change in telomere length. (1) The study also compared VO2peak baseline levels (physical or cardio-respiratory fitness at baseline) in relation to change in telomere length after the 6 month intervention. In looking at Figure 1 (b), we can see physical fitness was separated into classes of low, middle and high physical fitness. The results show only a significant increase in telomere length for the low fitness participants in the exercise group.(1)
So, what does this all mean?
This study suggests it cannot yet be assumed there is a significant relationship between moderate aerobic exercise and telomere length changes in middle-aged women (1,4). However, keep in mind this a suggestion of a single study. Other studies, conducted a similar investigation and contrarily concluded significant increase in telomere length (4, 5). However, the study’s participants included both woman and men which may explain the difference in results. The study found no significant changes in telomere length for the middle and high class (1). The level of exercise intervention experienced during intervention may explain the results of the study. People with higher fitness parameters generally have a higher tolerance when it comes to physical activities. Therefore, more active people require additional and/or more vigorous physical activity in order to achieve the same potential benefits as less active people (3). A 2017 study indicated frequent exercise of vigorous intensity for ≥300 minutes/week was needed to improve telomere length (7). The study reviewed here only required 210 minutes of low – moderate exercise per week. However, the exercise intervention in this study did significantly improve PWV in the exercise training group compared to the control. Therefore, suggesting moderate exercise intervention can significantly reduce progression of arterial stiffening.
How can this help us age gracefully?
Aging is a part of life, and though unavoidable, we can try to “age gracefully”. In other words, taking in the above information, if you are less active consider incorporating moderate activities. For example, begin with adding in a brisk walk totaling 2.5 hours by the end of your week. If you are a more active individual, in order to assure you are reaching health-benefiting activity levels, you should incorporate activities of vigorous-intensity. For example, active people can include 2.5 hours of running each week. To sum up, exercise may help you age gracefully, but it depends on your activity frequency and intensity. Therefore, it is important to monitor your physical activity. There is plenty of helpful technology to assist you in tracking your activity. However, at Sportavida, we can help you scientifically monitor your body with unique saliva sampling. Thank you for reading! I hope you feel more informed and if you have any questions or comments, please feel free to leave a shout out.
- Eigendorf, J., Melk, A., Haufe, S., Boethig, D., Berliner, D., Kerling, A., … & Schippert, C. (2019). Effects of personalized endurance training on cellular age and vascular function in middle-aged sedentary women. European journal of preventive cardiology, 2047487319849505.
- Fantin, F., Rossi, A., Morgante, S., Soave, D., Bissoli, L., Cazzadori, M., … & Zamboni, M. (2012). Supervised walking groups to increase physical activity in elderly women with and without hypertension: effect on pulse wave velocity. Hypertension Research, 35(10), 988.
- Loprinzi, P. D. (2015). Cardiorespiratory capacity and leukocyte telomere length among adults in the United States. American journal of epidemiology, 182(3), 198-201.
- Mason, C., Risques, R. A., Xiao, L., Duggan, C. R., Imayama, I., Campbell, K. L., … & Blackburn, G. L. (2013). Independent and combined effects of dietary weight loss and exercise on leukocyte telomere length in postmenopausal women. Obesity, 21(12), E549-E554.
- Melk, A., Tegtbur, U., Hilfiker-Kleiner, D., Eberhard, J., Saretzki, G., Eulert, C., … & Berliner, D. (2014). Improvement of biological age by physical activity. International journal of cardiology, 176(3), 1187-1189.
- Minges, K. E., Strait, K. M., Owen, N., Dunstan, D. W., Camhi, S. M., Lichtman, J., … & Curtis, J. P. (2017). Gender differences in physical activity following acute myocardial infarction in adults: a prospective, observational study. European journal of preventive cardiology, 24(2), 192-203.
- Ogawa, E. F., Leveille, S. G., Wright, J. A., Shi, L., Camhi, S. M., & You, T. (2017). Physical Activity Domains/Recommendations and Leukocyte Telomere Length in US Adults. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 49(7), 1375-1382.
- Tucker, L. A. (2017). Physical activity and telomere length in US men and women: An NHANES investigation. Preventive medicine, 100, 145-151.
- Werner, C. M., Hecksteden, A., Morsch, A., Zundler, J., Wegmann, M., Kratzsch, J., … & Böhm, M. (2018). Differential effects of endurance, interval, and resistance training on telomerase activity and telomere length in a randomized, controlled study. European heart journal, 40(1), 34-46.