University of California at San Francisco researchers have documented exercising’s benefits on a cellular level.


The researchers found that vigorous exercises as little as 42 minutes over a 3 day period, similar to the US government’s recommendations, can protect people from the effects stress has on DNA.


Small fragments of DNA, located at the end of the strands, known as telomeres, help maintain its stability and stops our genes from unraveling, similar to stoppers.


Numerous research studies suggests that shorter telomere are linked to a variety of diseases including, diabetes, heart disease and premature death.


According to Elissa Eppel, Ph.D., one of the study’s lead researchers, “Telomere length is increasingly considered a biological marker of the accumulated wear and tear of living, integrating genetic influences, lifestyle behaviors and stress. 


“Even a moderate amount of vigorous exercise appears to provide a critical amount of protection for the telomeres.”


Sixty-two women many, caring for husbands or parents with dementia, reported the number of minutes of vigorous activity in which they’d engaged over the course of three days. 


Vigorous activity was defined as “increased heart rate and/or sweating.”


The women also recorded their perceived experiences of stress they’d encountered during the prior month. The telomere length of their immune cells were also examined.


The study showed, that when the women were divided into groups, an inactive one, an active group (those who’d met the US government’s recommendations for 75 minutes of weekly physical activity), only the inactive high stress group had shorter telomeres.


The active high stress group’s DNA (telomeres) remained normal in length.  Stress did not affect them. Only the sedentary group’s experiencing stress predicted shorter telomeres only in the sedentary group. This study ads to earlier research that determined chronic psychological stress exerts a significant toll on our bodies by shortening the telomeres’ length, particularly in our immune system’s cells.


Other scientists have determined that exercise is linked to longer telomeres, but this study is the first to demonstrate that exercise in fact acts as a stress buffer and prevents the diminution of telomeres that is induced by stress.


In 1985, another UCSF researcher, Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D., a molecular biologist discovered the telomerase enzyme, with two other American scientists.  They were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 2009.


According to Dr. Blackburn, “we are at the tip of the iceberg in our understanding of which lifestyle factors affect telomere maintenance, and how.”