BYU research suggests exercise reverses cellular aging process

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Ari Davis
Professor Larry Tucker’s research indicates people who frequently engage in intense physical activity have cells up to nine years younger than people who don’t exercise. (Ari Davis)

High levels of exercise appear to slow down the aging process of cells, according to new research from BYU exercise science professor Larry Tucker.

Tucker’s findings aren’t the first to show that exercise is important, or even that exercise can improve quality of life. The difference is this study examines the effects of exercise from a biological standpoint, with all eyes on the telomeres.

Tucker’s research shows indicators of biological age are most prominent in individuals who exercise regularly.

“A person who is 45 years of age may only be 35 years of age biologically if they have a healthy lifestyle,” Tucker said.

The study shows people who have regular, intense levels of physical activity have significantly longer telomeres than those who have sedentary lifestyles or who are only moderately active.

Telomeres are the end caps of chromosomes. As cells divide, tiny bit of their telomeres are lost. Over time, telomeres get shorter and shorter.

People with short telomeres are biologically older cells can no longer replicate when telomeres get to a certain point, according to Tucker. People with short telomeres tend to not live as long and have more chronic disease compared to people with long telomeres.

Men need to jog five days a week to reach the level of exercise needed in order to preserve telomeres. Women need to jog about 30 minutes five days a week. (Universe Archive)

Tucker said people with high levels of physical activity had by far the greatest biological advantage, with telomeres about nine years longer than sedentary people, and even seven years longer than those who are are only moderately active.

“Substantial amounts of physical activity seem to help preserve telomeres, which are probably our best measure right now of our biological age,” Tucker said.

Tucker said “substantial amounts of physical activity” equates to 40 minutes of jogging five days a week for men and about 30 minutes of jogging five days a week for women.

Tucker admitted that while many people aren’t active at those levels, reaching that level of activity is absolutely doable.

“I do it; my wife does it; I know a lot of people that do at least that much,” Tucker said.

Exercise science student Kyle Scott said he was excited by the implications of the study.

“It makes sense,” Scott said. “You see that in people who exercise a lot and who are are active: they age better, they look better when they’re older and their bodies hold up better.”

Robin Huddleston, a BYU student activity class instructor, said obtaining the benefits of exercise comes down to being all in and forming good habits. Huddleston encourages her students to make exercise a daily activity.

“When I teach cycling classes, I always tell my students, ‘You’re not going to get all of the benefits you need from exercising two times a week. You’ve got to make it a daily thing,'” Huddleston said.

Huddleston said she has seen positive responses in her students who exercise regularly.

“I’ve noticed a lot of my students talk about how they have more energy, study more, felt more confident in general when they exercise,” Huddleston said. “And I definitely feel that myself. Overall wellbeing improves with exercise.”

True to Tucker’s research, Huddleston said she notices substantially greater benefits when she exercises five to six times a week.

“I am emotionally stronger and it helps me deal with the stress in my life,” Huddleston said. “I’m able to release stress, anger and sadness, and it clears my head.”

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