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Endurance training, interval training makes biological clock tick slower

If you want to live longer, then exercise. Go running or cycling, and make sure your fitness improves - read: that your body's ability to absorb oxygen increases. Endurance training makes the biological clock tick slower, German cardiologists write in the European Heart Journal. They did the largest randomised long duration study comparing different training modalities with a control group until now.

Longevity & endurance training
There are quite a few studies that suggest that endurance athletes live longer than non-active individuals. Like the small human Norwegian study that appeared in PLoS One in 2012. [PLoS One. 2012;7(12):e52769.] According to this study, older endurance athletes have longer telomeres in their DNA than non-active peers.

You can read more about telomeres here.

Endurance training, interval training makes biological clock tick slower

The longer your telomeres are, the younger you are at a molecular level. But how do you interpret those findings? Does training slow down the biological clock in your genes? Or do people with a slow ticking biological clock participate more often in endurance sports?

In order to find an answer to that question, the researchers decided to carry out a trial. A large trial.

The Germans gathered a group of 266 healthy but inactive men. When after six months the study ended, there were 124 men left. The rest had dropped out. Nevertheless, this study is the largest randomized trial into the effects of various forms of exercise up to now.

The researchers divided the men into 4 groups. A first group did not participate in any physical activities during the experiment. This was the control group. The remaining 3 other groups trained 3 times a week. Each session lasted about 45 minutes.

The first execise group did traditional endurance training. The men went jogging at 60 percent of their maximum heart rate.

The second exercise group did interval training. After a warming-up the men ran for 4 minutes with an intensity of 89-90 percent of their maximum heart rate, after which they ran for 3 minutes with an intensity of 60-70 percent of their maximum heart rate. They repeated this cycle 3 times. The men finished their workout with a cool-down.

The third mexercise group did strength training. The subjects did eight basic exercises on machines - the leg press, the leg extension, the leg curl, the seated row, the chest press, the pull down, the hyper-extension and the crunch. The subjects did 2 sets of 16-20 reps of each exercise.

Before and after half a year, the researchers took cells from the subjects' blood and determined the length of the telomeres in the DNA of those cells. The quicker you age, the faster the telomeres in your DNA become shorter. Healthy lifestyle, on the other hand, can activate the telomerase enzyme, which makes the telomeres in cells longer.

Strength training had no effect on the telomere length, but classical endurance training and interval training made the telomeres in the blood cells longer. The latter two exercise modalities made the telomerase enzyme more active. Strength training did not.

Endurance training, interval training makes biological clock tick slower

Endurance training, interval training makes biological clock tick slower

Classical endurance training and interval training increased the manufacture of NO in the bloodstream, and increased the maximal oxygen uptake [VO2max]. The latter parameter correlated with the increase of the telomere length: the greater the increase of the VO2max, the greater the increase of the telomere length.

Endurance training, interval training makes biological clock tick slower

Endurance training, interval training makes biological clock tick slower

"Our main finding is that, compared to the start of the study and the control group, in volunteers who did endurance and high intensity training, telomerase activity and telomere length increased, which are both important for cellular aging, regenerative capacity and thus, healthy aging", summarizes research leder Ulrich Laufs in a press release. [ 28 Nov 2018]

"Interestingly, resistance training did not exert these effects."

"The study identifies a mechanism by which endurance training, but not resistance training, improves healthy aging. It may help to design future studies on this important topic by using telomere length as indicator of 'biological age' in future intervention studies."

"The study has several implications", says first author Christian Werner. "Our data support the European Society of Cardiology's current guideline recommendations that resistance exercise should be complementary to endurance training rather than a substitute."

"From an evolutionary perspective, endurance and high intensity training may mimic the advantageous travelling and fight or flight behaviour of our ancestors better than strength training."

Eur Heart J. 2018 Nov 28. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehy585. [Epub ahead of print].

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