The Anti-Aging Potential of Exercise

Forget the expensive creams and magical serums that promise to keep you young. Want the real secret to anti-aging? It’s simple: Exercise. I know, I know, you’ve heard it all before, and the last thing you want to hear again is a lecture on why you should exercise. However, I believe that if you know why to exercise and how to make your workouts efficient and fun, you will be successful.

First, exercise to stay young and prevent disease.

Strong, convincing research continues to show that exercise has an extremely positive effect on the length of your telomeres. I’ve discussed telomeres before, but in short, they are protective caps on the ends of the chromosomes inside our cells. They are like the plastic ends of your shoelaces that keep the laces from unraveling. The main job of telomeres is pretty much the same thing…to keep the ends of our chromosomes from getting damaged.

When we’re born, our telomeres are nice and long, and great protectors. Every time20160218 telomere a cell in your body divides, a section of telomere breaks off, making it a little shorter. This process is perfectly normal…but when a telomere shortens too much or too fast, the cell dies before its time. As more and more of your cells’ telomeres become too short and cells die off, your tissues begin to break down and you start to see signs of aging—everything from skin wrinkles, weakened muscles, poor eyesight, and loss of memory to heart problems, strokes, and diabetes.

Here’s the good news: There’s solid evidence that your lifestyle, and particularly exercise, can play a great role in how rapidly your telomeres shorten, to determine your actual biological age (as opposed to your chronological age). I mentioned in a previous letter going to a class reunion and observing how much younger and more vigorous some classmates looked versus others. This is particularly the case for 30-year or greater reunions, where everyone has a chronological age over 50. Age has clearly been kinder to some than others.

So how long should you be exercising to enhance the length of your telomeres and your youth?

Let me give you ever more good news. You don’t need to start running marathons or training to be the world’s next weightlifting champion. Rather, studies show that physical aging is significantly slowed with regular, moderate exercise, such as daily aerobic or interval training. Moderate exercise appears to support telomere length by maximizing oxygen to the tissues and protecting against significant cell damage.1

As a health professional, I know that one of the best methods to test the impact of a lifestyle on outcomes like telomere length and aging is by studying twins. This is especially the case if one twin does a lot of a particular activity and the other does not. Keep in mind, these are very difficult studies to do because researchers have to search hard to find twins with different lifestyles.

However, in one amazing and especially intriguing study, scientists analyzed telomere length from white blood cells collected from 2,401 twins. Their goal was to examine the relationship between exercise and telomere length over a 10-year period.

They found that the length of the twins’ telomeres was directly related to how much they exercised. In other words, the more they exercised, the longer their telomeres. However, they didn’t exercise for hours on end every day. Even less than two hours a week provided significant benefits. For example, the telomeres of moderate exercisers (100 or so minutes per week doing activities such as running or swimming) on average looked like the telomeres of a person five or six years younger, compared to the participants who exercised the least (16 minutes per week). And the people who engaged in the most physical activity (three or more hours a week) had telomeres that looked nine years younger than those who exercised the least.

Did you get that?! Exercising three or more hours a week produced telomeres in that person that were 9 years younger. For me, that makes the effort of exercising worth it!

Even when the researchers took into account other factors that could skew these results (age, sex, body mass index, smoking, etc.), the results stuck.

The researchers wrote that, “This provides a powerful message that could be used by clinicians to promote the potentially anti-aging effect of regular exercise.”

Great News! 30 Minutes Is All You Need

As I mentioned, you don’t have to do all that much exercise to reap the anti-aging benefits. I recommend (and personally engage in) only about 30–45 minutes a day, four to five days a week. Like I’ve mentioned before, I’m getting on in years, and most days, I walk the streets around my work and do dips at park benches, all the while saying “hi” to everyone I see.

You see, I combat the boredom of exercise by doing an interesting exercise activity. I urge you to vary your activity…maybe you do two or three days of aerobic exercise such as walking, jogging, stair climbing, elliptical training, swimming, etc. The other days, mix bursts of cardio with weight or resistance training so that you build more muscle. Find a friend! Mix it up and have fun!

If you’re just starting with your fitness routine, good for you…it is never too late. While the research on telomeres is still in its infancy, a small pilot study involving men with low-risk prostate cancer showed that making positive lifestyle changes (including more exercise), even after a cancer diagnosis, led to longer telomeres after five years, compared to controls.3

In the beginning, commit to one to two days of exercise a week for 10–15 minutes, or as long as you can go. Over time, increase your goal to four to five days a week for 30–45 minutes.

Your entire body—right down to your cells (and telomeres) will reap the rewards.


  1. Ludlow A, Ludlow L, Roth S. BiomedRes Int. 2013;2013:601368.
  2. Cherkas LF, et al. Arch Intern Med. 2008 Jan 28;168(2):154-8.
  3. Ornish D, et al. Lancet Oncol. 2013 Oct;14(11):1112-20.

About Author

Brian Matthews

Brian Matthews is the President of Gene Smart and the leader of our Gene Smart team. His mission is to provide supplements to help you control your inflammation, your weight, and your life, based on the latest scientific information.

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