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telomere

When my sister-in-law turned 50, my family flew out to Arizona to help her celebrate. She warned us when we took our suitcases into the bedrooms to not leave our tennis shoes out in the open because her cat liked to chew on shoelaces. I forgot after the first couple of days and left my shoes on the floor. The next time I put them on, the laces snapped in half where they had been chewed and I had to tie my shoes with about one inch of shoelace.

The reason I’m sharing this story is because it’s a metaphor for what happens when we don’t follow exercise guideline advice. Have you heard the term “telomeres” before? Ten years ago, three American scientists won the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine for their discoveries about telomeres. Telomeres are caps on the ends of our DNA strands (chromosomes).

Chromosomes hold our DNA, and the ends of them, called telomeres, help keep the chromosome ends from fraying and sticking to each other. Chromosomes are like our shoelaces, and telomeres are like the plastic tips on the end. Every time one of your cells divides, the telomere gets shorter. When telomeres get too short and cannot be repaired (like my shoelaces), chromosomes fray and the cells can no longer divide.

This shortening process is associated with aging, cancer, and a higher risk of death. However, it turns out that we may have more control over our telomeres than we think. Lifestyle is an important determinant of telomere length and telomerase activity. The more exercise people get, the less their cells seem to age.

How to keep your telomeres lengthened.

Simple answer? Exercise regularly. Spring is the perfect time to refresh your exercise routine. You don’t have to worry about extreme cold, snow or ice. 30 minutes daily will provide you with younger looking telomeres. It’s still not clear what level of exercise intensity is required to yield the best results.

Recent studies show that higher levels of physical activity or exercise are related to longer telomere length. This relationship is particularly evident in older individuals, which suggests the role physical activity can play in combating the aging process.

Bottom line.

This complex field is still in its infancy, with more unknowns than knowns. So far, the findings reinforce commonsense advice about a healthy lifestyle— not smoking, exercising regularly, controlling stress, and having a healthy diet.

Written by:  Donna Green, Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Erie County, green.308@osu.edu

Reviewed by: Beth Stefura, Extension Educator, Family & Consumer Sciences, Ohio State University Extension, Mahoning County, stefura.2@osu.edu

Sources:

https://www.ucsf.edu/news/2013/09/108886/lifestyle-changes-may-lengthen-telomeres-measure-cell-aging

http://www.berkeleywellness.com/self-care/preventive-care/article/aging-what-telomeres-can-tell

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5546536/

https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/basics/telomeres/

 

 

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