People who exercise more in their free time are biologically younger by up to nine years, compared to their more sedentary peers, the results of a new study indicate.
Physical activity is already known to have a major impact on health. People who exercise regularly are less likely to develop a number of conditions, including heart problems, type 2 diabetes, obesity and osteoporosis.
Researchers from King’s College London followed the progress of over 2,400 twins aged 18-81. All provided details about their levels of physical activity during leisure time over a 12-month period. They also provided details on other health and lifestyle issues.
The researchers looked for evidence of ageing at a molecular level by analysing telomeres. These cap the end of chromosomes in our cells, protecting them from damage. As we age, our telomeres shorten, leaving us more susceptible to cell damage, which causes disease. The researchers compared the telomeres of sets of twins, where one twin was more active than the other.
The team found that telomere length decreased steadily with age, however there was a significant link between increasing physical activity and longer telomere length, even after other influences were taken into account, such as body mass index (BMI) and smoking.
The study revealed that on average, the telomeres of the more active twin were significantly longer than the telomeres of the sedentary twin.
“Overall the difference in telomere length between the most active subjects and the inactive subjects corresponds to around nine years of ageing”, explained Dr Lynn Cherkas of King’s College.
While recent research has shown that several lifestyle factors, such as obesity and smoking, are associated with shorter than average telomeres, these findings indicate that differences in telomere length between active and inactive individuals cannot be explained by lifestyle factors such as smoking and BMI.
“A sedentary lifestyle appears to have an effect on telomere dynamics, thus providing a powerful message that could be used by clinicians to promote the potentially anti-ageing effect of regular exercise”, added Prof Tim Spector, also of King’s College.
Details of these findings are published in the journal, Archives of Internal Medicine.