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June 2010 The Power of Exercise

It has been known that chronic psychological stress can have a harmful impact on human physical health. Stressful life experiences have been related to frequent occurrence of cardiovascular diseases and cancer, insulin resistance or suppression in the immune system. Many medical investigations so far have shown a beneficial role of well balanced diet in combating symptoms of various diseases. Recently, however, a lot of attention has also been given to a physical activity and its role in stress management. The mechanism by which stress impacts the body at the cellular level is still unknown in all details, but one likely pathway is telomerase activity (a cellular enzyme that adds telemetric DNA to shortened telomeres, and protects them). The relationship between chronic stress and the enzyme's activity is complex. One of the effects of stress is to cause telomerase inhibition, leading to premature cell aging. The findings reported last month, by a group of researches at the University of California, support the buffering potential of physical activity on harmful effects of stress on cellular longevity [1]. Therefore, exercise should be strongly advised and prescribed to people reporting high levels of psychological stress.

Main text:
Based on findings from previous studies, a pathway through which chronic stress may impact health is through affecting the length of the telomeric DNA and cell aging [2, 3, 4, 5, 6]. Telomeres are protective DNA-protein complexes at the end of linear chromosomes that promote chromosomal stability. Telomere shortness in human beings is a reliable prognostic marker of disease risk, its progression and premature mortality.

Results of a newly published study have shown that stressed yet physically active adults are more protected from the impact of stress on their telomere length, compared to those stressed and not active [1]. Participants in this study were 63 healthy post-menopausal women who were caring for a child with a chronic illness. These women were categorized in two groups: active and sedentary (inactive). Interestingly, women with higher perceived stress were significantly less likely to exercise and had fewer years of education. Furthermore, the relationship between stress and telomere length was significant in inactive participants only. According to results from this study it can be concluded that physical activity improves overall physical condition. Additionally, data from the study fit into recommendations for the amount of physical activity required to sustain a healthy body (75 minute of vigorous exercise per week, according to Centers for Disease Control).

A condition of chronic stress modifies cell physiology and shortens cell's life span. Since physical activity may protect those experiencing high stress, it is highly recommended to introduce regular exercise in a lifestyle. The power of exercise can be an enjoyable experience of relaxation and a useful way to protect your physical health.

By: Svetlana Obradovic and Luuk Simons 

[1] Puterman, E., J. Lin, E. Blackburn, A. O'Donovan, N. Adler, E. Epel (2010). The Power of Exercise: Buffering the Effect of Chronic Stress on Telomere Length.

[2] Epel, E. S., E. H. Blackburn, J. Lin, F. S. Dhabhar, N. E. Adler, et. al. (2004). Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress. Proc Natl Acad Sci 101 pp. 17312-15.

[3] Epel, E. S., J. Lin, F. H. Wilhelm, O. M. Wolkowitz, R. Cawthon, et. al. (2006). Cell aging in relation to stress arousal and cardiovascular disease risk factors. Psychoneuroendocrinology 31 pp. 277-87.

[4] Parks, C. G., D. B. Miller, E. C. McCanlies, R. M. Cawthon, M. E. Andrew, et. al. (2009). Telomere length, current perceived stress, and urinary stress hormones in women. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention 18 pp. 551.

[5] Damjanovic, A. K., Y. Yang, R. Glaser, J. K. Kiecolt-Glaser, H. Nguyen, et. al. (2007). Accelerated telomere erosion is associated with a declining immune function of caregivers of Alzheimer 's disease patients. J Immunol 179 pp. 4249-54.

[6] Kortschal, A., P. Ilmonen, D. J. Penn (2007). Stress impacts telomere dynamics. Biology Letters 3 pp. 128.

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