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Endurance training may slow the ageing process

Posted on Tuesday, 15 January, 2013 by anthony

Recent research (Østhus et al., 2012) suggests that long term endurance training may slow the ageing process by maintaining telomere length – having shorter telomeres is associated with ageing and is an indicator of life expectancy.

What is a telomere and why is telomere length important?

A telomere is a region made of repetitive DNA situated at the end of each chromosome. They protect the cells chromosomes from fusing with other chromosomes and from deterioration. Every time a cell divides the telomeres get a little bit shorter and at a certain point they become too short and the cell becomes inactive or dies. The process by which telomeres get shorter has been associated with aging, cancer and an increased risk of death. Some studies have found an association between shorter telomeres and reduced life expectancy, especially amongst older people. Therefore, anything that helps to maintain telomere length may be of benefit in delaying the aging process.

About the endurance training research

The researchers looked at the telomere length in groups of young (22-27 years) and older (66-77 years) men – in both groups half of the participants were endurance athletes and half were moderately active. Mean telomere length was measured as the telomere/single copy gene-ratio (T/S-ratio).

The effects of endurance training on ageing

In both the young and older athletes telomere length was longer in athletes than the moderately active groups (1.47 vs 1.33 – Young, 1.12 vs 0.92 - Older). The difference was significantly greater amongst the older group indicating that endurance training may help to better maintain telomere length than moderate activity levels as we age.

Endurance training and telomere length

Figure 1. shows the telomere length (T/S ratio) in a group of athletes and non-athletes.
*P<0.05. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052769.g001

The researchers also found a positive relationship between VO2max and mean telomere length. This relationship was stronger when comparing endurance trained athletes than the moderately training participants.

The researchers conclusions on endurance training and ageing

The researchers stated that telomere length appeared to be better preserved in older endurance trained athletes than similarly aged moderately active individuals. The researchers concluded that: 1) Endurance training appears to helps to regulate the telomeres in old age and may slow the ageing process by maintaining telomere length; 2) The positive relationship between VO2max and telomere length highlights the importance of aerobic fitness for healthy ageing.

Endurance training and ageing reference

Østhus IBØ, Sgura A, Berardinelli F, Alsnes IV, Brønstad E, Rehn T, Støbakk PK, Hatle H, Wisløff U, and Nauman J. (2012) Telomere Length and Long-Term Endurance Exercise: Does Exercise Training Affect Biological Age? A Pilot Study. PLoS ONE 7(12): e52769. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0052769

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