Lack Of Exercise In The Elderly Women Leads To Shorter Telomeres

Elderly women who sit more than 10 hours a day and fail to get at least 40 minutes of daily exercise are at risk of increased telomere shortening

We know that exercise is good for you, although exactly how much is needed to reap the benefits is still up for debate. For a number of reasons, many older people struggle to get sufficient exercise and spend a majority of their time sitting down. Many younger people also fail to exercise frequently too, but as poor health is a greater concern in older demographics, researchers wanted to test whether a sedentary lifestyle could cause accelerated telomere aging in elderly women. 

Is telomere loss is quickened by a lack of exercise?

A study involving 1,481 women over the age of 65 sought to measure telomeres and determine whether length was correlated with physical activity. They attached accelerometer devices to each patient to measure their physical movement, recorded sleep patterns, and also asked participants to record their activities on a questionnaire.  They then measured their blood cell telomeres, which is the most common method of determining telomere length. 

In order to minimise confounding elements, they also took into account factors such as smoking, presence of other diseases, marital status and hormone medication. The researchers then compared a group that failed to complete at least 40 minutes of exercise a day. 

"Our study found cells age faster with a sedentary lifestyle. Chronological age doesn't always match biological age"

What did they find? 

Finding time for just a 30 minute walk could help reduce telomere loss in elderly women 

Those women who managed at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day showed no accelerated decline in telomere length. This suggests minimal exercise can still go a long way. More importantly however, they found that those who failed to do this and sat at least 10 hours a day had consistently shorter telomeres. This average difference was about average difference was 170 base pairs, at a 95% confidence interval. Those in this group were also more likely to be obese and struggling with other long term conditions however. 

What can we take from the study?

The results aren't particularly striking and are unfortunately limited to women, as men were not tested. They do hint that a toxic combination of a lack of exercise and a sedentary lifestyle combined may contribute to telomere loss. This could be due to many other connected reasons however, such as obesity, inflammation. We also have no idea whether a similar lifestyle has similar effects on younger people. It's still additional evidence that a small amount of exercise can help keep you in better shape however.

Read more at NHS Choices