Another study sees link between exercise and living long life

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Exercise! It might just slow down the aging process. And it looks like the middle ages is a critical time to get that body moving.

That’s the message from a new study that New York Times reporter Gretchen Reynolds wrote about late last week.

Reynolds explains how scientists are measuring the true age of our cells by the length of the telomeres within. Think of telomeres like the little plastic toppers at the end of shoelaces, she says. Just like those lace toppers, as telomeres age they wear out. But scientists now are seeing that exercise blunts the decaying of the telomeres and puts off the aging process.

In the study, researchers at the University of Mississippi and the University of California, San Francisco looked at exercise and its impact on telomeres on a large sampling of individuals. Some 6,500 persons were involved; they were as young as 20 and as old as 85. In the survey, the participants were asked whether they’d done different exercises — running, weight training, walking, for example — during the previous month. For each bout of exercise completed, they received a point. Their totals were then compared with their telomere length.

Basically, the study found that the more and varied exercise a person completed, the less worn the telomeres were. The link was strongest in persons who were between 40 and 65, suggesting that moving your body — or even starting to exercise — during these years was particularly important, according to Reynolds.

The researchers involved were quick to point out that the study just shows an association, and they couldn’t say how much exercise individuals needed to do to keep telomeres in good shape. The study didn’t say that longer telomeres meant better health,  Reynolds points out.

Still, one of the researchers told Reynolds that the study does show that a variety of exercise done regularly does seem to have a strong link to longevity. And, there was no evidence the exercise had to be particularly vigorous, either. 

For too long too many of us have thought the value of exercise was to give us washboard abs and memorable butts. That’s all fine and good, but the real value is getting us to old age with our mobility and agility intact. And if you were too busy in your earlier years to work out, it looks like you can still reap the benefits if you begin — and stick with it — in middle age.

So you know what you have to do today: Move!

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