Dr. Campbell: Can exercise really be the ‘fountain of youth’?

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — We often think about age as the number of years you have been alive—but just as important is your “biologic” age.

Many experts agree that exercise can be a way to extend life and avoid heart disease, diabetes and other chronic diseases. Now a new study from Brigham Young University suggests that vigorous exercise in older adults can actually delay the aging process in your cells. The study is scheduled for publication in the July issue of the journal Preventive Medicine.

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1. What is the difference between chronological age and biological age and why is this important?

Many of us have been surprised to find that someone is older or younger that we thought based on their activity level and appearance. From a medical standpoint, we evaluate both the chronologic and biologic age of our patients. We think of chronological as the number of years you have been alive, but biologic age is how old a human being seems to be—and you can differ significantly in your biologic and chronologic age based on your health habits.

As we age, our chromosomes—which contain our DNA or genetic code—shorten and this is one way to determine biologic age. When the ends of chromosomes—called telomeres—shorten, the life span of the cells shorten.

2. Tell us about this new study and what it showed

In the study, data from almost 6,000 Americans was analyzed. They found that people with consistently high levels of physical activity have significantly longer “telomeres” than those who are moderately active or inactive. They defined high activity as running for 30 minutes, five days a week.

In total, telomeres in adults with high levels of physical activity had seven years less aging than those in moderately active adults. And the advantage was nine years compared with inactive adults, the researchers concluded.

3. What can we conclude about exercise in older adults? What does it mean for us?

While the study does not prove that exercise prevents negative changes in our DNA, it does suggest a strong association and provides more evidence for the beneficial effects of exercise.

The Centers for Disease Control recommends 150 minutes of exercise every week. I think that this is a good goal. It is important to do something active nearly every day—there are so many benefits to exercise and protecting your DNA from aging may be just one more to add to the list.

To get in touch with Dr. Campbell, you can head to his website, Facebook page or message him on Twitter.

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