My discussion today is about exercise and telomeres, let’s review what we know. By getting into our 60% MRH zone for forty-five minutes 3-4 times a week, we increase the number of cells in our hippocampus as well as increase the length of our telomeres. This allows us to process information more efficiently and helps us to remember things more accurately.
A quick reminder: Telomeres are the protective end caps of our chromosomes—think the plastic tip of a shoelace.
Telomeres are found in every cell throughout the body. The longer and stronger our telomeres are, the higher functioning our brains and minds will be, and the less our body will decline and age. Shortened telomeres are found in people with dementia and Alzheimer’s.
Research, from the wonderful, Nobel Prize winning molecular biologist, Dr. Elizabeth Blackburn, suggests that the more different types of exercise we fit into our week, the longer our telomeres will be. The longer our telomeres, the less likely we are to develop dementia, or to have the symptoms of dementia affect us, and the better our brains, the better our bodies will function overall.
Looking at the data of 6500 participants over three years, Dr. Blackburn and her colleagues saw some improvement in telomere length of those doing one type of aerobic exercise; greater improvement in those fitting in two different types of heart-pumping work, and the greatest change in folks who really mixed it up and dropped four different types of exercise into their weekly workout plan. If you ride the stationary or street bike, and walk each week, you are half-way there, already!
The key to making this a part of our lives every week is to add one new type of aerobic exercise to our agenda at a time. Try adding in an old-fashioned aerobics class, or take a dip in the gym’s pool. I like to swim in the warmer months, and there is nothing better to elongate one’s muscles and get a whole-body toning session like 30 minutes of doing the Australian crawl.
Once this third type of workout has become habit—give it a good two months to become a normal part of your week—try adding a fourth type of aerobic workout. Maybe you can pull on that neon-colored spandex (think 1980’s and Jane Fonda) leotard ensemble and rock and sweat to the Bee Gees, or text a friend and spend some time hitting balls on the tennis court.
Sadly, for many of us, strength training has not been shown to improve telomere length yet, but of course it is vital for our bodies to do some strength training each week, as well. Even as little as 30 minutes 2-3 times a week, along with your aerobic work, will keep your muscles strong, making your total exercise time 1 hour and 10 minutes per session. Isn’t your brain worth that investment?
Household activities can count as well—vigorous vacuuming, raking leaves with gusto, etc., as long as your heart rate stays up in your 60% range for 45 minutes. The best way to know? Get a heart rate monitor and wear it while you are sucking up the dirt and pollen the dog dragged in. This is your most accurate way of checking. And, of course, wear it when you are at the gym!
No matter what activities you find that get you moving and keep you motivated, aim for 4 different types of areobic exercise as your magic number for optimum brain and body health.
Until next time…Be Vibrant!