Olga's Telomeres

If you've followed TOJ for awhile, you've seen an increasing focus on the importance of doing intense exercise, not just light aerobics. The evidence that hard exercise pays health dividends, regardless of your age, continues to mount.

Read this illuminating article by Bruce Grierson about a record breaking, 91 year-old athlete named Olga Kotelko. What drew my attention wasn't her athletic accomplishments, but what exercise physiologists in Canada believe is responsible for them. Grierson writes:

"EXERCISE HAS BEEN shown to add between six and seven years to a life span (and improve the quality of life in countless ways). Any doctor who didn’t recommend exercise would be immediately suspect. But for most seniors, that prescription is likely to be something like a daily walk or Aquafit. It’s not quarter-mile timed intervals or lung-busting fartleks. There’s more than a little suffering in the difference.

Here, though, is the radical proposition that’s starting to gain currency among researchers studying masters athletes: what if intense training does something that allows the body to regenerate itself?"

The source of our physical energy is in our cells, which reproduce themselves many times during our lives. Scientists believe a significant cause of the visible effects of aging (wrinkles, muscle loss) is the aging of our cells. One theory is that cells age because what are called telomeres at the end of our chromosomes, containing the code to replicate the cell, grow shorter, thus losing some genetic information with each cell replication that happens 50 or so times during the average lifetime.

What intrigues the physiologists about Olga is that she still has long telomeres, which may be giving her the lung and heart capacity and strength of a much younger person. It might be that intense exercise induces the production of an enzyme called telomerase that enables telomeres to maintain their genetic code (DNA) and thus produce healthy mitochondria inside cells that fuels human performance at all ages.

Every TOJ knows intense exercise makes you feel good. Now there's another reason to go hard. It helps you stay healthy and strong for much longer.

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