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How Life-Long Exercise Protects The Cardiovascular System

December 2, 2009
To understand why exercise has such a protective effect on the body, including apparently forestalling the aging process, a team of researchers headed by Ulrich Laufs, MD, professor of clinical and experimental medicine in the department of internal medicine at Saarland University in Homburg, Germany, looked at the effects of longterm exercising on the cardiovascular system. They found that intensive exercise prevented shortening of telomeres, sections of DNA on the ends of chromosomes that play a protective role in our cells and may prevent vascular cell death and the aging of the cardiovascular system. Over time, the progressive shortening of telomeres through cell division leads to aging on the cellular level and may shorten one’s life span. After testing the effects of exercise on mice, findings were applied to two groups of trained professional athletes and compared to non-trained athletes. The blood cells of those with long-term exercise training showed signs of reduced aging, with age-dependent telomere loss lower in the master athletes who had performed endurance exercising for several decades. "The most significant finding of this study is that physical exercise of the professional athletes leads to activation of the important enzyme telomerase and stabilizes the telomere," said Dr. Laufs. “Our data improves the molecular understanding of the protective effects of exercise on the vessel wall and underlines the potency of physical training in reducing the impact of age-related disease.” The study is in the current issue of Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association