Have you ever desired to turn back the clock almost a decade? Sounds too good to be true, right? But reversing aging at the cellular level actually is possible, and a new study finds the answer is pretty straightforward: exercise. Research published in Preventive Medicine and highlighted in Time finds that individuals who exercise have biological aging markers that appear a full nine years younger compared to those with sedentary lifestyles.
Researchers examined the telomere lengths of nearly 6000 adults participating in a multiyear survey conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Telomeres get shorter every time a cell replicates, so with age they decrease in length, yet in some individuals they shrink faster than others. The study found that after adjusting for variables like gender and race, as well as lifestyle factors like smoking, obesity, and alcohol consumption, those who exercised the most had much longer telomeres.
While any amount of exercise was beneficial, individuals who did the equivalent of jogging for 30 to 40 minutes a day five times a week garnered the best results. "The top exercisers were vigorously working out 150 to 200 minutes a week, or engaging in light- to moderate-intensity activity for longer periods," describes study author Larry Tucker, professor of exercise science at Brigham Young University. "Moderate exercise was still valuable and it had some benefit, but it was really those high levels of physical activity that made the real difference," he says.
It should be noted that the current study relied on self-reporting about physical activity and wasn't able to account for factors like stress, sleep, or dietary practices, which could influence exercise habits or even genetic changes. Still, the high association between physical activity and cellular aging is notable. "We all know people who seem younger than their actual age," notes Tucker. "We know exercise can help with that, and now we know that part of that may be because of its effect on our telomeres."
Next up, learn the trick that will help you increase your motivation to exercise more often and harder.