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Physical exercise can not only help us manage chronic medical conditions like blood pressure, high cholesterol and aid with sugar control, it can also lengthen our life expectancy and may even reverse aging (1).
People who participate in moderate to high levels of physical exercise have a lower death rate compared to individuals who are not physically active. Moderate levels of exercise have been correlated with preventing ageing and improving quality of life (2). Case in point, older people who exercise regularly are often in better shape, they are more muscular, and they are less likely to develop chronic illnesses or physical disabilities than sedentary seniors.
Research corelating youthfulness and exercise
A study in the online journal PLoS Medicine looked at data on 650,000 adults ( including some who were obese ) and found that walking just 15 minutes a day was associated with living 2 years longer.
Looking at normal-weight individuals only, the data showed that walking 30 minutes a a day, 5 days a week was associated with an increase in life span of more than 7 years (3).
On a cellular level, the process of ageing can be slowed down by sustained exercise.A study published in 2009 showed that sustained physical training in young and middle-aged athletes was associated with higher telomerase activity, increased expression of telomere-stabilising proteins and therefore longer telomeres, compared to sedentary people (4).
The same research group recently conducted another randomised controlled trial in non-athletes to demonstrate that exercise increases telomerase activity and telomere length. The results of the study were published in 2018 in the European Heart Journal. The researchers recruited 124 middle aged men and women who were in good health but did not exercise.
During the 6 months study, participants were randomly divided into four groups.
- 1 Control group and 3 exercise groups that did different types of exercises 3 times a week.
- The first exercise group did endurance training ( walking or running 45 min a day )
- Another exercise group did high intensity interval training. They worked out for 4 min at high intensity followed by a 4 min rest - this cycle was repeated 4 times.
- And the third exercise group did resistance training with various weight machines.
Blood samples were taken before, during, and at the end of the study to measure telomere length and telomerase activity in white blood cells.
At the end of the study, those who exercised, regardless of the type, had better cardiorespiratory capacity than at the beginning of the study.
Telomerase activity was 2-3 times higher in the group who did endurance or interval exercises, compared to the control group. This effect, however, was not observed in people who did resistance training.
Similarly the telomere length was greater in those who did endurance or interval exercises, but not in those who did resistance exercise.
These results suggest that endurance exercises such as running, brisk walking, or swimming and high intensity interval trainings are more effective to keep longer telomeres and delay cellular aging. It should not be concluded, however that resistance exercises are useless for healthy aging. Resistance exercises increase overall fitness, which is one of the most important indicators of longevity (5).
How much to exercise?
So with the evidences presented above - it’s clear that exercise can help us stay fit, become younger and age better. How then should you structure exercise into your life?
The recommended exercise duration per week is to commit to at least 150 mins of moderate to vigorous physical activity.
Moderate to vigorous physical activities refers to any form of exercise that raises and maintains your heart rate at > 50% maximal heart rate.
A simple formula to calculate maximal heart rate is 220 - your age. A smart watch that helps keep track of your heart rate while exercising would be very beneficial in helping you track your progress.
Do consider a mixture of aerobic and anaerobic (resistance training) exercises.
One good recommendation can be high intensity interval training which cleverly incorporates the 2 types of exercise regimen in one.
You can view more of these sort of workout programs from our Fitivate workout page
We have new exercise routines rolled out weekly.
Apart from HIIT, running, jogging, swimming, cycling and weights training are also very good exercises to incorporate into your exercise regime.
Try to spread out your entire 150 mins of exercise evenly thoughout the week - meaning 30 minutes of exercise 5 days a week.
Keep yourself motivated and disciplined throughout your fitness journey as the results of regular exercise does not surface immediately. Get your friends and family into the mix as well, encourage each other to live healthily and challenge each other to achieve better levels of fitness!
By : Dr Chen Yiming
Family Physician, MBBS (Singapore), GDFM (NUS), GDFP Dermatology (NUS)
By : Alvin Ho
B (Eng), MBA, Certified Allied Healthcare/Fitness Professional (EIMS), Master Fitness Trainer / Fitness Nutrition, Resistance & Endurance Training Specialist (NFPT)