Fitness & Your Telomeres
Updated: Feb 7, 2018
Telomeres. What?? Picture the plastic protective caps at the end of your shoelaces. That is what telomeres are at the ends of each and every one of your chromosomes. Chromosomes carry with them the genetic code that makes us who we are. One might think that we cannot do anything to change our genes, which is still true to some extent, but scientists now have more evidence that we can affect our genetic outcome.
The discovery of telomeres dates back to 1975, when the co-author of The Telomere Effect, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, was a post-doc grad student at Yale. Since then, she and other scientists have examined how certain environmental and emotional conditions can shorten or enhance the length of our telomeres. The areas of study include stress or our emotional state, the foods we eat and the amount of and type of exercise we do. These factors can affect telomere length and the rate of deterioration.
With regard to exercise, there have been many doctors who have touted its benefits over the years. Dr. Kenneth Cooper was named the” Father of Aerobics” after writing the book Aerobics in 1968. And Dr. George Sheehan was a doctor turned runner and philosopher. Both men took to running as a way to get fit and beat the stress of their profession. Nearly 50 years later, doctors and scientists are now examining health and aging at the cellular level with the help of telomere research. Exercise science has proven that aerobic activity promotes cardiovascular health and longevity. The heart is a muscle just like other muscles in the body and it requires regular tasking. You know the old saying, “Use it or lose it.”
What is the most current recommendation for the best kind of exercise to preserve the integrity of our telomeres? Research shows that moderate aerobic endurance exercise 3 times per week for 45 minutes, or HIIT which stands for high intensity interval training are optimal. HIIT sessions are shorter…up to 30 minutes. (Read to the end to get a sample workout!)
Resistance or strength training does not rank as high yet it still has a positive effect on improving telomere-associated proteins. Strength training is also vitally important for maintaining bone density, coordination and muscle mass. So I do not recommend one type of exercise over the other. We get to do both.
The cascade of health benefits one gains from consistent exercise is (almost) endless. Exercise maintains a free-radical/anti-oxidant balance. Free radicals are molecules that have lost an electron and go bashing about and try to take an electron from another molecule. This unstable state causes consistent low grade inflammation which is considered to be the cause of many of the chronic diseases associated with aging. Exercise steps up the body’s production of antioxidants which fight free radicals. (We also get lots of antioxidants by way of eating vegetables and fruit.) Any movement that makes you break a sweat and gets the heart pumping helps to “wash away” any imbalance and enhances cell health and the integrity of the telomeres. And it simply gets better from there! Our cells release less cortisol, allowing us to feel more calm. Cells become more sensitive to insulin, therefore blood sugar levels are more stable and we have better energy and less food cravings. All of the body’s systems-circulatory, digestive, nervous, lymphatic, muscular and skeletal, function at a higher level when we exercise consistently. Exercise encourages weight management. Exercise is great for emotional regulation, busting stress and boosting mood. After a long day at work, whether you are active or sitting at your desk, often the last thing you want to do is exercise. That is actually the best time to get in some activity!! And I don’t say that just because I am a fitness trainer! That happens to me too! Try it some time and you will discover that it is true!! Exercise can improve your mood for up to three hours and help you sleep. Yes, your telomeres do not like stress and lack of sleep either. The question you want to ask yourself is “Am I fit?” Are you able to mow the lawn or shovel snow or carry your golf clubs? Are you able to move freely and with ease to do the things in life that you want to do? If so, great!! If not, your telomeres are suffering. Plan your fitness, just like you schedule other important events into your day and week. Take the stairs, park far from buildings, do pushups against the kitchen counter while you wait for lunch to cook in the lunchroom microwave. As promised, here is the suggested workout from the book! Go for it!!
For beginners: Warm up walking for 10 minutes, then walk fast for 3 minutes/walk slowly for 3 minutes. Do this 4 times and cool down with another 10 minute walk.
For in shape folks: Same warm up and cool down as above. The 3 minute intervals can be walk/jog or jog/run, depending upon your fitness level and desire.
For more ideas, please visit FullSun Wellness Studio during community hours: Wednesdays from 4-5:15pm or Saturday from 11am-1pm. Or contact Patricia for a private complimentary consultation and Wellness Assessment. You can reach me at Patricia@FullSunStudio.com or 216-644-5514.
References: The Telomere Effect, Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD & Elissa Epel, PhD, 2017. Aerobics, Dr. Kenneth Cooper, 1968.