A new British study out of King’s College in London makes clear that people who stay physically active in their free time also stay younger biologically. The research team, led by Lynn F. Cherkos, examined the DNA of 2,401 twins, observing the length of “telomeres-repeated sequences” at the end of the chromosomes in their white blood cells (leukocytes). These sequences tend to shorten with age. The study found that those who exercised heavily — 199 minutes a week — had, on average, 200 more nucleotides than those who exercised a mere 16 minutes a week, meaning that the exercisers were “biologically” 10 years younger than the non-exercisers. These results remained consistent even after adjusting other factors such as smoking, amount of physical activity at work, socioeconomic status, and body-mass index.
It should be noted that body-mass index made no difference in the biological age of the subjects. Chubby subjects who exercised were biologically younger than their skinny, sedentary siblings. This study serves as a great reminder that weight alone does not determine the state of your health — nor your life expectancy. As I’ve written before, exercise trumps weight: studies consistently show that it’s healthier for your heart if you’re physically fit but overweight than it is if you’re thin, but unfit.
This doesn’t mean that it’s okay to pack on the weight. Obesity still poses a major risk factor when it comes to diabetes. If you’re overweight, you need to lose it. But dieting alone won’t cut it; you have to get up off your duff. You need to exercise for at least 30 minutes five days a week, combining weight training with cardio, balance routines, breathing, and stretching. You need to do it all, and if you’re like most Americans, you’re not meeting the minimum requirement. Although 80 percent of Americans claim that they exercise regularly, only about half that number actually do. In fact, about 60 percent of the population either doesn’t get enough exercise, or doesn’t get any at all — coincidentally, about the same percentage that falls into the overweight category.
Bottom line: exercise is no longer just for your heart, your blood sugar, or even your appearance. Thanks to your telomeres, we now know it determines how quickly you age…and how soon you die.