We all know the signs of aging – starting with a few wrinkles showing up at the corner of the eyes and a few grays hairs popping up here and there, followed by back ache and knee pain. Pretty soon, you find yourself searching for names when staring at a familiar face. Have you ever wondered how scientists measure aging?
One of the biological markers for aging is the telomere, a short sequence of DNA capping the end of our DNA strands. Like the plastic tips of shoelaces, telomeres protect chromosomes from deterioration. As a cell ages, its telomeres naturally shorten and fray. Shortened telomeres are associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes and major cancers. Scientists now know that telomeres shorten naturally after each cell replication cycle. However, various research suggests that health and lifestyle factors, such as obesity and smoking, may accelerate that process.
In a study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, scientists from the University of California San Diego School of Medicine reported that elderly women with low physical activity and sedentary lifestyle have cells that are biologically older by eight years compared to women who are less sedentary. 1,500 women, ages 64 to 90, participated in the study. The women were part of the larger Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), a national, longitudinal study investigating the determinants of chronic diseases in postmenopausal women. The participants completed questionnaires and wore an accelerometer on their right hip for seven consecutive days during waking and sleeping hours to track their movements.
The researchers found that elderly women with less than 40 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per day and who remain sedentary for more than 10 hours per day have shorter telomeres. The researchers further found that women who sat longer did not have shorter telomere length if they exercised for at least 30 minutes a day, the national recommended guideline. The study concluded that cells age faster with a sedentary lifestyle and that chronological age doesn’t always match biological age.
So, what’s the take home message? Next time when someone comments –“wow, you look younger than your age,” tell them “I worked for it!”
Thanks for reading!
Journal Reference: Aladdin H. Shadyab et al. Associations of Accelerometer-Measured and Self-Reported Sedentary Time With Leukocyte Telomere Length in Older Women. American Journal of Epidemiology, January 2017 DOI: 10.1093/aje/kww196
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