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Run away from ageing by…..running

Men's health

Posted on 02/09/20

The subject of anti-ageing often comes up in this journal.

But this is a first for the subject of ‘running’, something I really don’t enjoy and never do.

Run a mile

I know loads of people who adore the freedom and de-stress of a crisp, winter run through beautiful rolling countryside.

I never got that. Maybe because I live in a city. All I see in running is repetitively pounding joints and a stitch. If it’s tough, it’s probably good for you but it just isn’t for me and never has been.

Given my personal choice to completely reject running, I was moderately disappointed to read about a study published by the European Heart Journal in November 2018. [Spoiler alert:] The conclusion of the study was that running and other aerobic activities can slow down the signs of ageing at a cellular level.

Maybe it’s just me but I think it’s quite easy to think that anti-ageing is purely cosmetic. But ageing isn’t just about what you look like on the outside. What’s happening on the inside also counts. Probably more so in fact.

The study

Professors and researchers from the University of Leipzig in Germany carried out a six-month study on 124 healthy but previously inactive men and women.

For those of you concerned by the term ‘inactive’, it was defined as less than one hour of exercise per week, over the past 12 months.

The panel of 124 adults was randomly split into four groups. The mean age of each group was 48-50 years old.

Three times each week for 45 minutes over a six month period, one group ran, one group did high intensity interval training (HIIT), one group did weights or resistance training and one group did absolutely zip. Which group would you have wanted to be in!?

The researchers found that the two groups doing aerobic exercise (running and HIIT) slowed or even reversed signs of cellular ageing. It gets pretty technical here but the scientists found that telomerase was up-regulated by 2-3x in the these two groups.

This was not observed in the group doing resistance training.

What on earth is telomerase?

A telomere is a protective structure at the end of a chromosome. It protects the chromosome from deterioration.

Telomere shortening is associated with ageing, mortality and ageing-related diseases. Scientists now seem to agree that reversing telomere shortening can extend cell lifespan.

Telomerase is an enzyme that replaces these short bits of DNA, or telomeres. So telomerase promotes replacement and lengthening of telomeres.

Pretty powerful stuff but I’m out of my depth so will leave it there.

What does all this mean?

The lead author, Professor Ulrich Laufs said: “Our main finding is that, compared to the start of the study and the control group, in volunteers who did endurance and high intensity training, telomerase activity and telomere length increased, which are both important for cellular ageing, regenerative capacity and thus, healthy ageing. Interestingly, resistance training did not exert these effects.”

“The study identifies a mechanism by which endurance training – but not resistance training – improves healthy ageing,” he added.

Co-author, Dr Christian Werner, had his own take on the results, saying: “From an evolutionary perspective, endurance and high intensity training may mimic the advantageous travelling and fight or flight behaviour of our ancestors better than strength training.”

Time to run?

This is definitely an interesting study and I believe the first to look at how specific training protocols can have different effects on cellular ageing.

Personally, I’m not convinced it will convert me. I prefer bodyweight resistance training. That’s my thing. And at times, it can feel like HIIT. So maybe, my telomeres are lengthening a tiny bit at least.

For those of you who are converted or who already run, please remember the number 1 rule of being outside: wear sunscreen.

You should protect yourself even if it’s winter or cloudy outside.

Ultraviolet radiation touches your skin every day, all year round.

Protect any exposed skin before you put your trainers on.

That’s one sure fire way to slow down the cosmetic ageing process. And a whole lot more.

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