Finding an exercise routine that will extend your life may be easier than you think. New research out of England shows that brisk walking has the ability to positively affect telomere length, which is a genetic indicator of biological age.
Scientists from the University of Leicester studied the genetic data from more than 400,000 participants in the UK Biobank and found walking at a faster pace was associated with longer telomeres. Researchers estimate that brisk walking throughout your lifetime could lead to your biological age being 16 years younger than expected by midlife.
Telomeres are like caps at the end of each chromosome. They contain non-coding DNA that protects the chromosome from damage and act similarly to the way the end of a shoelace keeps the lace from coming apart.
Every time the cell divides the telomere becomes shorter. Eventually they get too short and can no longer divide. That is what is referred to as replicative senescence. That’s why scientists consider leucocyte telomere length (LTL) a good marker of biological age. It’s independent of the actual chronological age of the person.
The relationship between telomere length and disease is not yet fully understood by scientists, but the growing number senescent cells is thought to contribute to symptoms of aging such as frailty and age-related diseases.
"Previous research on associations between walking pace, physical activity and telomere length has been limited by inconsistent findings and a lack of high-quality data," said Dr. Paddy Dempsey. "This research uses genetic data to provide stronger evidence for a causal link between faster walking pace and longer telomere length. Data from wrist-worn wearable activity tracking devices used to measure habitual physical activity also supported a stronger role of habitual activity intensity (e.g. faster walking) in relation to telomere length.
"This suggests measures such as a habitually slower walking speed are a simple way of identifying people at greater risk of chronic disease or unhealthy aging, and that activity intensity may play an important role in optimizing interventions. For example, in addition to increasing overall walking, those who are able could aim to increase the number of steps completed in a given time (e.g., by walking faster to the bus stop). However, this requires further investigation."
Previous work from researchers at the University of Leicester has shown that it takes only about 10 minutes of brisk walking a day to make a difference.
"Whilst we have previously shown that walking pace is a very strong predictor of health status, we have not been able to confirm that adopting a brisk walking pace actually causes better health," said researcher Tom Yates. "In this study we used information contained in people's genetic profile to show that a faster walking pace is indeed likely to lead to a younger biological age as measured by telomeres."