running to stay young

There’s something about running or exercising in general that helps me tap into some deep sources of energy, and helps me focus on that part of my being that is young.  Not sure whether it’s the physical exertion that tires you enough to leave behind some of life’s stresses.  It could also by the mental challenge of doing the miles, which shifts your focus away from stress.  I don’t think I can really attribute much to endorphins, as they typically come after you’ve pushed really hard, or hurt yourself.  And most of the time that’s not what running or exercise is for me.  I genuinely enjoy the quiet time to myself, or the time spent with friends.  The physical challenge is nice, but it’s really secondary for me.  But yes – it feels good.

I never really knew the scientific reasons behind this, but definitely felt it to be true that running and exercise help me ‘feel’ younger.

Well – it turns out there’s a reasonable physiological explanation for exercise perhaps being a fountain of youth to some of your tissue.  I ran across an interesting article in the New York Times several weeks back which talked about exercise as a means to combat aging.  Scientists in Germany recently examined several groups of people.  They included sedentary and active, young and old.  The looked at their appearances, and also examined their cell life spans.

Appearances are very subjective, but the scientists observed that many of their active middle-aged and older subjects simply ‘looked’ younger than their sedentary counterparts.  In and of itself, that doesn’t mean much, but in looking at their cell life spans, it turned out to be a reflection of what was going on inside as well.  Telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes from deterioration.  When cells divide, the end of a telomere gets ‘snipped’.  If they eventually get too short, the cell dies.  Researchers generally accept telomere length as a ‘reliable marker’ of cell age.

In the younger subject, there was little observable difference in telomere length between the active and sedentary subjects.  But in the middle-aged and older subjects, the sedentary subjects had telomeres that on average were about 40 percent shorter than the telomeres in the active subjects.  In comparison, while the older runners did have shorter telomeres than the younger runners, the difference was only about 10 percent.  That means the telomere loss was reduced by about 75 percent in the runners.  As the article states, “more succinctly, exercise, Dr. Werner says, ‘’at the molecular level has an anti-aging effect.’ ”.

The root cause is still unknown.  It’s possible that exercise affects telomerase, an enzyme thought to help protect telomeres.  And the protective effects are apparent only in some tissue, not all.  Researchers also don’t know whether more moderate exercise is ‘enough’ to protect telomeres or not – the study apparently did not do detailed analysis of different levels of exercise.  And – the article did not detail which tissue types seem to be affected by exercise.

Still – it’s encouraging to see that there is indeed some physiological basis for what I think I’m feeling.

Check out the article here if you’re interested :

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