Telomeres, you’ve probably heard of them. They are the fascinating little bundles of chemicals on the ends of each and every strand of DNA. They sort of act like zippers, and every time a cell duplicates itself in order to heal or grow some new tissue, the telomere unlocks the DNA so that it can be copied over to the new cell.
The telomere is the code that determines how long we might potentially live. That’s because when it runs out, cells can no longer replicate. That means no more growth, no more healing, and your days are numbered, bucko.
It’s also interesting to note that cancer cells basically have unlimited reserves of telomeres. Pretty scary, right?
The good news is that if you want to make those telomeres last longer, there are actually things you can do. You’re probably aware that epigenetics means you can activate “healthy” genes by living healthily. Well, you can also lengthen your prescribed longevity.
Since these little bundles of life promoting molecules were first discovered in the 1980s, science has identified a number of ways in which a person might prologue the life and effectiveness of their telomeres. Until now, there have been a lot of ideas about how to improve telomere longevity.
In general, eating healthy food and being active are the recipe for more telomere goodness. But the exact foods and the exact activities have been elusive, to say the least. That is until researchers discovered a substance that appears to be directly responsible for supporting telomere health and telomere replenishment. It’s called, telomerase, unsurprisingly.
Telomerase is an enzyme that is produced by the body. It appears to respond to healthy living- and promotes longevity in an apparent vindication of the common phrase- “use it or lose it.”
Researchers from the Leipzig University in Germany wanted to study the effects of different types of physical exercise. They collaborated with researchers from a handful of institutions to study the comparative effects of endurance exercise, strength training, and high-intensity interval training on the production of telomerase.
Endurance exercise includes activities such as running and swimming and is intended to improve cardiovascular endurance. High-intensity interval training is similar to endurance training, but consists of short bursts of intense activity and short periods of recovery. Finally, strength training is the practice of using weight or resistance to develop muscle strength.
The researchers studied groups of subjects, each of which would commit to one of the above types of exercise for a period of several months. As a control group, individuals maintaining a sedentary lifestyle were also studied.
The scientists measured telomere length before and after the study and tested white blood cells for telomerase activity. They found that compared to the sedentary control group, those who did a combination of endurance and high-intensity training enjoyed the most telomerase activity.
After that, those who did only high-intensity interval training enjoyed the second best results, and those who did only strength training experienced the smallest increase in telomerase activity. The improvement in the telomerase activity of those who performed only strength training was so low that researchers suspected that it was only a consequence of the overlap effect of high-intensity interval training, which often happens naturally during intense weight lifting sessions.
Professor Laufs, a leading author of the study said, “Our main finding is that, compared to the start of the study and the control group, in volunteers who did endurance and high-intensity training, telomerase activity and telomere length increased, which are both important for cellular aging, regenerative capacity and thus, healthy aging. Interestingly, resistance training did not exert these effects. The study identifies a mechanism by which endurance training — but not resistance training — improves healthy aging. It may help to design future studies on this important topic by using telomere length as an indicator of ‘biological age’ in future intervention studies.”
The difference in the results shown in the weightlifting groups was so dramatic, it appears that strength training alone is almost like not doing exercise at all when it comes to cellular health.
Based on this, health professionals are looking at adjusting their approach to fitness entirely. With the exception of those who strength train for the purpose of competition- this could lead to a change of attitude about weightlifting where it becomes little more than a supplement for other types of fitness activities. Runners may do strength training to stabilize their ankles, for example.
These findings also support studies that seem to indicate that interval training is optimal for those looking to improve cardiovascular health.