Can exercise actually slow the aging process? As demonstrated in this article from the New York Times, it appears that yes, it actually can! If a person engages in a sufficient amount and variety of activities, this can slow the aging process deep within the cells, and middle age (40s to mid-50s) is the critical time to make a difference.
The difference that exercise makes is at the cell level, specifically at the level of the telomeres. Telomeres are the part of our cells that affect how we age. Simplified, telemeres are the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes, like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces (which, I learned from watching “Phineas & Ferb”, a Disney show that my kids love, are called “aglets” – but I digress!) As a cell ages, its telomeres naturally shorten and fray. The process can be accelerated by obesity, smoking, insomnia, diabetes and other aspects of health and lifestyle. Shortened or frayed telomeres affect how the cells can repair themselves, not to mention reproduce to recover after exertion, exercise, or an injury.
There is now scientific proof that the shortening and shrinking of telomeres can be offset by exercise. Telomeres were longer in length with those that exercised the most and with the greatest variety of activity, especially between the ages of 40 to 65.
Since shorter telomeres equate to shorter lives, the take away message is that exercise is good for your cells, and therefore your body, and more exercise of a greater variety will extend your life!