Anti-aging: Exercise for a Younger, Healthier Body

Spare tires, sagging muscles, aching joints, stiffness" these are just a few of the unwanted effects of aging. It is becoming increasingly evident that adoption of a healthy lifestyle is important for slowing the aging process. In fact, current research tells us that physical exercise is the single best way to delay and prevent aging and to improve health and wellbeing.

Telomeres are protective caps made from genetic material that guard DNA chromosomes from damage. As we age, bodily processes like oxidative stress, cell division and inflammation begin to shorten telomeres, eventually leaving chromosomes unprotected. Short telomeres are linked with a host of health problems including heart disease and diabetes and are thought to be a result of aging.

A recent study looked at whether physical activity might have an effect on telomeres in other words - delay the effects of aging. Researchers studied 2401 twins (249 men and 2152 women) who were part of the Adult Twins Registry in the United Kingdom with questionnaires on socioeconomic status, physical activity, smoking and disease. In addition, blood samples were taken from each subject. DNA was extracted and telomere length was measured.

It was found that telomeres do shorten with age, but subjects who were physically active had longer telomeres than subjects who were sedentary. In fact, subjects who exercised for at least three hours per week had longer telomeres than subjects who were ten years younger exercising less than 16 minutes per week. This suggests that inactive, younger subjects might actually be biologically older than the subjects who were active.

In addition to lengthening telomeres, it has been shown that physical exercise enhances flexibility and helps maintain bone density. Regular, aerobic exercise like walking, jogging or swimming for three to six months can boost aerobic capacity by 15 to 30 percent. It can also reduce systolic and diastolic blood pressure in hypertensive men and women, and there is evidence that aerobic exercise might have a positive effect on cholesterol levels.

In addition to aerobic exercise, Pilates and yoga can be beneficial when it comes to slowing the aging process.

A circus worker, Joseph Pilates developed the exercise method named for him during World War One to enhance posture and flexibility for performers of all ages. It is a method which is designed to build core strength in the body through stretching, proper breathing techniques and exercises to improve balance. A strong core is essential in midlife and beyond as it helps protect the spine and reduces stiffness often associated with aging.

Yoga is a practice that originated in ancient India with the goal of attaining spiritual insight and tranquility through physical, mental and spiritual discipline. According to Indian philosophy age is measured by the flexibility of the spine. Yoga improves the elasticity of the spine through the performance of postures (or asanas). It eases aches and pains in the body and also might reduce wrinkling of the skin caused by stress. Because many yoga poses require deep concentration, yoga also serves to keep the brain young and it has been reported to enhance mood. Both yoga and Pilates are inexpensive to practice - all that is needed is a mat and comfortable clothing.

While it is apparent that exercise can improve longevity, some folks may be deterred due to excessive weight. Research suggests however, that people who are physically active generally have a higher life expectancy, even if they are overweight. This is great news for all of us who are trying to push back the clock! Give regular exercise a try for a younger, healthier body.

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