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Sport retards aging at the cellular level

A physical training reduces the shortening of telomeres in white blood cells
A physical training reduces the shortening of telomeres in white blood cells

Good news for all those who have decided to put exercise in their list of resolutions for 2010. An original study, published recently in the journal Circulation, showed that regular sport practice retards aging, at the cellular level.

According to the work of Ulrich Laufs (University of Saarland, Hamburg), physical activity regulates the expression of telomerase, an enzyme known for its role in the process of senescence and cancer.

Fragments of DNA at the ends of chromosomes, telomeres, shorten during life, as well as cell division. When their size becomes critical, the cell can not multiply and die.

The erosion of chromosomes by telomerase inhibition, is a main reason of aging. Conversely, activation of this enzyme plays an important role in the proliferation of certain cancers.

Many studies have proved the benefits of physical activity in preventing cardiovascular disease. Regular practice enables better control of blood pressure, improves cholesterol, triglycerides and blood sugar, regulates the weight. It is also shows that physically active people reduce their risk of certain cancers (including colon, breast and uterus).

However, the molecular mechanisms behind these effects remain unclear. For clarification, Ulrich Laufs and colleagues conducted studies in which one group of mice was trained to run in a wheel for three weeks.

Compared with animals that remained sedentary active mice showed an increase in telomerase activity level of the aorta and their blood cells. They also exhibited lower signs of apoptosis (programmed cell death).

To validate these data in humans, German researchers then selected several types of athletes: first, professional athletes aged about 20 years, and traveling 73 kilometers per week, on the other hand, marathoners and triathletes with mid age of 51 years. They were compared with two control groups of healthy subjects, non-smokers.

"A physical training reduced the shortening of telomeres in white blood cells," conclude the authors, who state that the stabilization of the size of telomeres is more evident in athletes who train for several decades among younger people.

This work is a direct evidence of anti-aging effect of exercise. For a long time, telomeres have been considered as a sort of internal clock to measure aging. It now appears that they play a much broader role in the control of tissue integrity.

According to the specialists, recent studies show that the telomere system is involved in the formation of new blood vessels (neoangiogenesis), and also in the inflammatory and immune responses.

In the future, it will be technically possible to measure the size of individual telomeres, like a blood glucose level, for example.


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