Exercise can buffer the effects of stress-induced cell aging, according to new research from UCSF that revealed actual benefits of physical activity at the cellular level. The scientists learned that vigorous physical activity as brief as 42 minutes over a 3-day period, can protect individuals from the effects of stress by reducing its impact on telomere length. Telomeres are tiny pieces of DNA that promote genetic stability and act as protective sheaths by keeping chromosomes from unraveling, much like plastic tips at the ends of shoelaces. A growing body of research suggests that short telomeres are linked to a range of health problems, including coronary heart disease and diabetes, as well as early death. "Telomere length is increasingly considered a biological marker of the accumulated wear and tear of living, integrating genetic influences, lifestyle behaviors, and stress,'' said Elissa Epel, PhD, who is one of the lead investigators and an associate professor in the UCSF Department of Psychiatry.
While the exact mechanisms have remained elusive, the ramifications of stress stretch deep into our cells. The findings also build on previous studies showing that exercise is linked to longer telomeres, but this is the first study to show that exercise -- acting as a "stress-buffer'' -- can prevent the shortening of telomeres due to stress.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests 75 minutes of vigorous activity a week for adults, or 150 minutes of moderate activity in addition to weight-bearing exercises. For children and adolescents, recommended levels are 90 minutes per day.