There are so many benefits of taking part in a regular exercise routine. It can have dramatic and positive effects like:
- Balancing body fat percentage
- Increasing cardio fitness
- Improving general physique
- Elevating mood
- Building stamina and strength
- Helping with relaxation and sleep
- Reducing your risk of chronic disease
These are all amazing and important, but there’s one benefit you may not know about; one that has a direct impact on your lifespan…
Researchers discover the strong effect of exercise on your DNA
Your DNA is like your life’s roadmap. DNA strands hold the code that allows for the program of your life to run its course. Each cell has its own DNA that is made up of chromosomes, which are pairs that contain the genetic code and come in shape of an ‘X’. Each of the ends of the ‘X’ have caps on them that contain information about lifespan. The caps are known as telomeres.
These telomere caps become shorter as we get older1,2, and their shortening effect is most commonly seen in cells like the skin, hair and immune system, which become less functional as you age. The skin wrinkles and loses its elasticity, the hair starts to fall and loses its pigment while the immune system3 is less able to cope with the threat of viruses and infections.
One might think that this is something you can’t control; everyone ages, right?
Fortunately, researchers have found that exercise has a great impact on telomere length, and that a certain type of exercise can actually impact your telomeres in a way that contributes to living a longer, healthier life4,5,6!
High intensity interval training, strength training or endurance training? Which is best?
In a study conducted by researchers at the Mayo Clinic, scientists set out to discover the best exercise recommendations they could give to people of different age groups, in order to help them achieve their best health at that age7.
Despite testing the impact of high intensity interval training (HIIT), strength training and endurance-type exercise on a number of people with varying ages, they found one exercise to be a clear winner across all of their participants7.
Let’s be clear here: each type of exercise revealed tremendous health benefits such as promoting lean body mass and improving insulin sensitivity, which is why it’s important to have a varied routine7.
But, it was HIIT alone that had far more of a significant effect on overall health and ageing. In particular, it was noted how important HIIT was for seniors, who often experience the greatest decline in health and general functionality, particularly because of telomere length decline and the cellular ageing and inflammatory conditions that develop along with it7.
Another study, published in the journal Preventive Medicine, backed up Mayo Clinic’s findings, and, further evidenced the impact HIIT has on living longer8. The researchers concluded that HIIT could increase the number of birthdays you live to see by 9 years over those who are largely sedentary throughout their lives9!
Additionally, highly active people surpassed those who are moderately active, boasting a 7 year longer life, on average. The researchers weren’t yet able to explain the precise mechanism of HIIT and its youthful effects, but they suspect it has to do with how HIIT curbs inflammation and suppresses the chemical compounds which are produced by inflammatory responses that are known to cause damage to telomeres and increase the rate of cellular ageing9.
Are you interested in giving HIIT a try? If you’ve never done it before, it’s never too late - or too early - to start.
Get your HIIT on
When it comes to exercise and anti-ageing, it’s just not enough to go for a brisk walk every day to keep your telomeres long and healthy. HIIT requires you to ramp up the intensity of your workout to near maximum levels, for a few minutes at a time at the very least.
Scientists at McMaster University revealed the difference this makes in a study they conducted that compared two groups of cyclists taking part in varying intensity training programs. One group cycled three times a week for 10 minutes at a time with just one minute of those being at their maximum intensity. The other group cycled at a moderate pace for 45 minutes three times a week10.
The end result? Both groups showed the same health benefits10. Think about that for a minute… just 10 minutes compared to 45 minutes and you get the same benefit? It certainly shows that besides its anti-ageing effects, HIIT-type sessions are also far more efficient, especially for your busy modern-day life.
Remember, HIIT is meant to be challenging - but, your upper limits will look different than someone else’s. There are a variety of different HIIT workouts to choose from that can easily be tailored to your capabilities and fitness levels.
Be sure to seek advice from a trainer when you start out and consult your doctor if you have any medical conditions or are pregnant. Their guidance can help you to find the training types that work best for you.
So, forget about the creams, potions and elixirs that promise to make you youthful, the secret to healthy ageing and a longer life is in sweating it out in the gym11.
- Sahin, E., and DePinho, R. Linking functional decline of telomeres, mitochondria and stem cells during ageing. Nature. 2010. 464:520–528.
- Oeseburg, H., et al. Telomere biology in healthy aging and disease. European Journal of Physiology. 2010. 459:259–268.
- Kaszubowska, L. Telomere shortening and ageing of the immune system. Journal of Physiology and Pharmacology. 2008. 59(9):169–186.
- Werner, C., et al. Differential effects of endurance, interval, and resistance training on telomerase activity and telomere length in a randomized, controlled study. European Heart Journal. 2018. 40(1):34-46.
- Mundstock, E., et al.. Effects of physical activity in telomere length: systematic review and meta-analysis. Ageing Res Rev. 2015. 22:72–80.
- Stellos, K., and Spyridopoulos, I. Exercise, telomerase activity, and cardiovascular disease prevention. European Heart Journal. 2019. 40(1):47-49.
- Robinson, M., et al. Enhanced protein translation underlies improved metabolic and physical adaptations to different exercise training modes in young and old humans. Cell Metabolism. 2017. 25:581.
- Tucker, L. Physical activity and telomere length in U.S. men and women: An NHANES investigation. Preventative Medicine. 2017. 100:145-151.
- Babizhayev, M., et al. Telomere length is a biomarker of cumulative oxidative stress, biologic age, and an independent predictor of survival and therapeutic treatment requirement associated with smoking behavior. 2011. 18(6):e209-e226.
- Gillen, J., et al. Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment. PLoS ONE. 2016. 11(4):e0154075.
- Mofrad, S., and Ebrahim, K. The effect of high intensity interval training on telomere length and telomerase activity in non-athlete young men. J Bas Res Med Sci. 2018. 5(2):1-7