Stress Solutions

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Exercise Reduces Stress and
Lengthens Your Life

The first thing that drops out of your schedule when work bears down is exercise.
And, once it is out of your daily routine, it may be days or weeks before you notice
it is missing. I don’t know about you but during this 6-month period of isolation or
quarantine, I have completely loss my exercise routine. It started with our health
clubs closing. Yet, this has been a very stressful period. We need to redouble our
efforts to put exercise back into our schedules.

The importance of aerobic exercise was brought back to mind when I saw this
article in Psychoneuroendocrinology (2018). Dr. Eli Puterman is a professor in the
University of British Columbia’s school of kinesiology and lead author of the
article. The study was focused on showing how aerobic exercise can reduce
stress in family caregivers; however, the results generalize to all of us. In fact, a
much earlier paper on exercise and the length of “telomeres” was done at U. of
California. The bottom line is that Puterman’s study proved that exercising at least
3 times a week for about ½ hour over a 6-month period can slow down cellular
aging, which was measured by telomere length.

Telomeres are regions at the end of chromosomes that are active during cell
division. Simply put, telomeres protect the ends of chromosomes. Telomere
length is one of the most commonly used markers of aging. Telomerase is the
enzyme that adds DNA to the ends of the chromosome. Exercise can induce
apparent telomere growth or lengthening. That translates into longer life and/or a
more healthy and active life.

Dr. Puterman’s study design took a group of 68 men and women who were
inactive and stressed caretakers of a family member with dementia. They
randomly assigned the subjects to a supervised aerobic exercise intervention
group vs a waitlist control group for 24 weeks. The exercise routine was 40
minutes of exercise 3 – 5 times per week or 120 minutes/week of aerobic
exercise. The waitlist control group did not change anything in their usual activity
schedule.

The two groups did not significantly differ in telomerase activity across time, but
they had significantly different telomere length changes across time. Of course,
the exercise group also charted significant body mass index reduction and
increased cardiovascular fitness. Oh, and they reported a significant decrease in
perceived stress levels.

Aerobic exercise is also known as cardio. It includes brisk walking, running,
cycling, hiking, dancing, swimming, and kick boxing. (I added that last to make
sure you were awake.) If your choice of aerobic exercise is walking, you need to
step up the pace and also the length of time you walk. The key is to get your heart
rate up. You should notice your breathing, but you should still be able to carry on
a conversation. An Australian study indicated that walking briskly for 30 minutes
five days a week can improve aerobic fitness. But even walking for 10 minutes
three times a day is as beneficial as walking for 30 minutes one time a day.

Happy Trails to each of you during this Pandemic. Stay healthy.

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Puterman, Eli, Weiss, Jordan, Lin, Jue, et al. Aerobic exercise lengthens telomeres and reduces stress in family caregivers: A randomized controlled trial – Curt Richter Award Paper 2018. (2018). Psychoneuroendocrinology, 98, p.245-252

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