Researchers in Homburg, Germany showed that 50-year-old men who ran more than 50 miles per week at a fast pace had telomeres (chromosome caps) that were almost the same length as those of 20-year-old runners on the German National Team, and more than 40 percent longer than those or inactive men of the same age (Circulation, December 2009). This is astounding because shortened telomeres represent aging.
The active ends of the genetic material (chromosomes) in cells are covered with a layer of proteins called telomeres. If they weren't, the exposed ends of the genetic material would stick to anything nearby and the cells would die. However, each time a cell divides to make two cells, a little bit of the telomere is removed. Eventually the telomere is gone, the ends of genetic material stick together and the cell can no longer divide so it dies without replacing itself. Obviously, the longer the telomeres, the longer it takes for the telomeres to be used up and the longer a cell lives.
Two years ago, researchers at King's College in London reported in 2,401 sets of twins that those who exercised regularly have telomeres that are longer than those of their twin couch potatoes (Archives of Internal Medicine, January 28, 2008). Other studies show that people who exercise regularly live an average of 12 years longer than non-exercisers (British Journal of Sports Medicine, March 2008). Most middle-aged and older athletes look significantly younger than non-exercisers of the same age.
Following the training methods of competitive athletes allows fit older people to run, cycle and do other sports at close to the level of much younger athletes. Recent studies show that intense exercise may also slow the effects of aging on their cells as well as their hearts and muscles. However, intense exercise can cause heart attacks in people with blocked arteries, so check with your doctor before you increase the intensity of your exercise program. More