Brief exercise can provide protection against the effects of stress-induced cell aging, according to new research from UCSF.
The scientists learned that vigorous physical activity as brief as 42 minutes over a 3-day period, similar to federally recommended levels, can protect individuals from the effects of stress by reducing its impact on telomere length.
Telomeres (pronounced TEEL-oh-meres) are tiny pieces of DNA that promote genetic stability and act as protective sheaths by keeping chromosomes from unraveling, much like plastic tips at the ends of shoelaces.
A growing body of research suggests that short telomeres are linked to a range of health problems, including coronary heart disease and diabetes, as well as early death.
“Telomere length is increasingly considered a biological marker of the accumulated wear and tear of living, integrating genetic influences, lifestyle behaviors, and stress,” said Elissa Epel, PhD, who is one of the lead investigators and an associate professor in the UCSF Department of Psychiatry. “Even a moderate amount of vigorous exercise appears to provide a critical amount of protection for the telomeres.”
The findings build on previous UCSF research documenting that chronic psychological stress takes a significant toll on the human body by impacting the length of telomeres in immune cells.
The new study has been published in the peer-reviewed online publication PLoS ONE.
In the study, 62 post-menopausal women – many of whom were caring for spouses or parents with dementia — reported at the end of each day over three days the number of minutes of vigorous physical activity in which they had engaged. Vigorous activity in the study was defined as “increased heart rate and/or sweating.” They also reported separately their perceptions of life stress that they had experienced during the prior month. Their blood’s immune cells were examined for telomere length.