Exercise and Telomeres



As if you didn’t have enough reasons to exercise, I’m going to bring a new one to the table. It seems that telomere length and exercise are correlated.

What are telomeres?

Need a refresher? Telomeres are like the aglets on the ends of shoe laces: they bind up the ends of your chromosomes so that your DNA doesn’t unravel. Like aglets, telomeres wear down over time and this can lead to fraying, which leads you to buy more shoelaces or your affected cells to die. Longer telomeres are associated with longer life and fewer diseases.

We already know that the Mediterranean diet and telomere length are positively correlated (but only correlated–we haven’t established causation yet) and that the whole diet had a greater effect than the sum of its parts (that’s what we call synergy, folks!). But what about the other half of a healthy lifestyle? What about exercise?

The Research

Telomeres and exercise definitely show some sort of correlation. In one study published in JAMA’s Internal Medicine, twins with different exercise habits were poled and the telomeres in their white blood cells measured. It showed that even people with identical DNA (in the case of identical twins) or very, very similar DNA (in the case of fraternal twins), had longer telomeres when they were more active.

Those in the highest activity bracket (exercising a mean average of 199 minutes per week, or just less than 30 minutes per day) had telomeres that were an average of 200 nucleotides longer than their sedentary counterparts (a mean average of 16 minutes per week, just over 2 minutes per day). More interesting: a secondary note was made that those who engaged in heavy activity in their twenties had telomeres more than 150 nucleotides longer than those who were not active in their twenties (while causation has not been proven, the time to get on this is now, ladies!) [1].

In a pilot study, ten athletes and ten moderately exercising men in across two ages groups (half were in their twenties and half in their late sixties or early seventies). In this study, muscle telomere length was measured and maximal oxygen intake (VO2max) was also gathered. The athletes in the older group had longer telomeres than the moderately exercising subjects and among the athletes, those with higher VO2max had longer telomeres than those with lower VO2max [2].

In another small study (only 22 men), showed that half an hour of “acute exercise” (they also tested VO2, this time having the participants exercise at 80% of the maximum) lead to telomere lengthening in immune cells [3]. This provides a possible reason for those longer telomere lengths in the twin study.

What Does This Mean?

Exercise is good for you–we all know this. But the correlations between exercise and telomere length are really exciting. If we find that exercise causes telomere lengthening, then exercise is literally rebuilding your body, stopping it from actual aging. And that is cool.

While longer telomeres are correlated with lower disease rates for things like diabetes, longer telomeres can also lead to cancer, and issue raised in an article at NPR. Telomeres are actually one reason cancer is so bad in the first place. Cancerous cells are able to divide endlessly because their telomeres are constantly rebuilt by telomerase, while normal body cells don’t get the same treatment. And this is how the tumors are created: the cancerous cells don’t know when to stop dividing and they don’t divide themselves to death because of their telomeres.

While this is a valid concern, before cancer can develop, many cellular components and genes must be damaged or mutated. Healthy cells know when to stop dividing and growing. As long as possible methods of lengthening telomeres don’t mess with cellular regulation for things like division and growth, healthy cells are just getting an anti-aging boost and not a Frankenstein-esqe, monstrous resurrection to cause destruction.

So, sorry if you were hoping for an excuse to sit and read quietly: it’s time to get up and get moving (and then get back here to keep up on nutrition **winkwink**).


Review: Human, the Fitness App

This month is going to be a lot about exercise, but my favorite thing is walking. Or any everyday activity. There really is something to just staying active all day–walking to the store or down the street, an impromptu dance party with friends, or the task of shopping.

A real doctor has found that walking really does help–in fact, 30 minutes a day is the minimum recommended dose, as he puts it. Getting half an hour of activity from just being out and about–walking, running, cycling, and dancing–is enough to improve your health. Just watch this awesome video below.

If you are psyched to start tracking your daily activity, there is an app for that. It’s called Human, and I am kind of in love with it.

While Cody is a great app for tracking workouts, Human is the all-day activity equivalent. Human taps into your phone (or iTouch) sensors to get an idea of where you are, how fast you are moving, and how long you are moving. It requires that your location services be on all the time, but in my experience, it has not been absolutely terrible on the battery, though I have started charging nightly, just in case.

Human cheers you on all day as you work toward your Daily 30, 60, or even 90 minutes of activity. It’s very inspirational for me–I go out of my way to take a little walk at lunch, take an extra lap around the store, or go for a real walk before dinner. It’s an awesome tool. My only complaint? There isn’t a badge for 120 minutes (but, hey, I’ve only done that once so far–I am working on it, though).

I totally recommend Human–five out of five! Use it to get out, get inspired, and get active!

Interested? Download Human! Already have it? Tell us what you think in the comments!

Up For a Challenge: The Little Black Dress Edition

lbd challenge photo

(This photo–originally IMG_9325 by Sarah Zucca/Flickr Creative Commons–has been modified and is published under a Share-Alike licence.)

Our plank challenge is winding down and it’s time to start thinking about next month! For those of you who are interested, starting next Monday, we’ll be following the 30 Day LBD Challenge plan below. With this full-body workout plan, by the time Christmas carols are heard on every radio station, we’ll be stronger and fitter. And maybe a little lighter in our clothes while everyone else is complaining about packing on the holiday pounds.

This challenge uses body weight exercises to build strength. The exercises target our arms, legs, and (of course) core. If you didn’t join in on the 30 Day Plank Challenge, you can still join us for this challenge that goes through November!

Coming on the heels of the last challenge, I have a wee bit more perspective about the difficulty of these fitness adventures. I am going to be straight with you–actually completing every part of the last challenge is quite a feat for those of you who can do it! After reaching 2 minutes, I am working on the rest of the challenge in several 1 minute increments per day (and I took more rest days than were required–but these planks really make you sore, so that was my reasoning). The plank challenge really ramped up–and this one will, too.

That said, sometimes the point is to push the envelope and other times you have to know when to give yourself a rest. In thirty days, we are going to go from 10 burpees (and, right now, that sounds like an awful lot) to 50 of them. Count ’em! Fifty! And maybe all of us won’t be able to do 50 burpees on day 27 or 50 triceps dips on day 25, at least all in one go. That is okay.

The truth is that some of us are new to this–and by some of us, I mean me. I fell off the fitness wagon earlier this year and I haven’t done this many repetitions since PE in high school. So, maybe I’ll break things up. Maybe I’ll make modifications to the exercises. Just as long as I can keep on working on a fitness habit, I’ll have succeeded in my goal in starting these challenges.

Success comes in a lot of forms and it is important to figure out what your priorities are for this challenge–slimming down (maybe cutting out processed foods for the month? I am definitely playing with the idea of a clean-eating diet-overhaul for November) or getting strong (maybe add weights where you can?) or getting into the fitness grove (like me!). That way, when November 26th rolls around, you know what you wanted to accomplish and that you did what you needed to do to achieve that goal.

Get ready for Monday!


Interested in joining me on this fitness challenge? Leave a comment below!

We’re Half Way There

Today we are officially halfway through the plank challenge! Two minutes sounds crazy (I am still feeling yesterday’s plank!), but we can do it!

This is exciting, right? Now things are going to really ramp up–from 2 minutes to 5 minutes in the next 15 days. I am loving this challenge because I can feel the changes. When we got up to 90 seconds, I could really feel it in my biceps and my quads. After-exercise soreness is one of those things that makes me strangely happy. I love feeling my body getting stronger and knowing without a doubt that what I am doing is working.

As we are getting close to finishing up this challenge, I thought I would pose this question to you lovelies:

How is the 30 Day Plank Challenge going for you? Other ideas for a fitness challenge? Tell us in the comments!

What’s up with the Apple Health App?

health app icon 1

“What is this app for?”

I was asking everyone around the house–what was this new app that showed up on my iTouch? I updated to the iOS (admittedly, a bit late) and, poof!, there it was. A white icon with a pink heart, labeled as ‘Health.’

But what was this new app? Nothing showed up in it when I opened it. My family didn’t have a clue. So, like any good millennial, I took to the web to find out.

As it turns out, this app is pretty useless by itself–but it does take information from a collection of apps that monitor things like your sleep, fitness, nutrition, monthly cycle (since I like to put things delicately), and other biomarkers.  Health takes the information and puts it all in one place: its dashboard.

What’s the point? you may wonder. Sure, having it in one place is convenient, but why would Apple develop this? The point, it seems, is to revitalize health care for the technology age. Health allows patients to share their medical information–from nutrition to blood glucose levels–directly with their doctors and other healthcare providers. The app even allows medical documents and lab results to be viewed in-app.

After reading that, my first thought was, Is that safe? Apple tries to assure us that it is. All the information is encrypted. But I also worry about storing all my sensitive information into an app and letting a bunch of third-party apps have access to my information (Apple warns users to read privacy policies for the third-party apps users choose to enable in Health). Most important is the possibility of HIPAA laws being violated (basically, HIPAA is a law created to protect patients’ private information from leaking, whether celebrities’ information into the media or your identifiable information being stolen).

Another thing to think about is that this is a free service–so what is Apple getting out of it? Do they hold on to your information? Is there some data mining going on? I don’t know, but I wonder. Mostly because I read this article some time last semester. Scary stuff.

There is some cool stuff in Health, though. Or at least in the concept. The health app has an emergency medical card the is accessible from your lock screen. It could be great for someone with an acute illness since her doctor could check her progress. If someone was just going to figure out what makes her feel best–When should I get to sleep,  should I have carbs for breakfast or not, and why do I feel so tired around 2:00?–the all-in-one dashboard feature would be very helpful for tracking all the necessary information.

While I see some possible issues with the transparency of this new app, I also see a great need that this app fills. I am currently not using the Health app, but I look forward to Apple clearing up worries about privacy and HIPAA compliance.

For Apple users, are you using the Health app? Are the Android users looking into Google Fit?

Up For a Challenge?

It all started when I went to Yosemite. I stopped running. High elevation (I live at 100 feet above sea level), 100 degree weather, and all day hikes conspired against it. But my gosh, was running an easy habit to break. Then I was in Germany, and between all the walking, swimming, and biking, I didn’t run there, either. Four weeks back stateside, and I still haven’t tightened those laces.

School has started, I am settling into my schedule, and it is time for me to get back on the horse (or in the shoes?). And to get back at it, I am going to start with planks. Wait, what? Planks?! you ask. Why are you starting with planks? Doesn’t running make more sense?

Well, yes, running might make more sense, but one of my personal goals is being able to hold a plank for 5 minutes. And there is a 30 day challenge for it and everything (if only I had started on the first of September–then it could have been a cool monthly thing, but alas).

30 day plank challenge

Three hundred seconds? If I can just stick with it, I can get to five minutes in a month from now. I’d like to extend and invitation to all you lovely people to join me for two reasons.

First, because achieving something like this can help to boost self-esteem. Just like making your bed is important, if you can spare (up to) five minutes in the morning to take care of your body, think of what you will feel like accomplishing in the rest of the day.

Second, planks are awesome. I could use technical jargon and talk about all the muscles used in a proper plank, or I can show you a picture.

plank muscles worked

As this photo is so often captioned, this is why we plank.

So, today, next time you have a free 20 seconds, do a plank (with good form!). Here’s how (read: no excuses for either of us :))

Wanna join me? Leave a comment below to help in holding yourself accountable 🙂


Sweets and Smiles: Adventure

This week, there was lots to smile about–not least of all taking in the natural beauty of Yosemite National Park. There is something so starling and beautiful about the sheer cliffs and the enormity of the granite mountains, the wildflowers in the meadows, and the tremendous strength of the water.

On Thursday, I got to climb to the top of Vernal Fall and saw the gorge laid out below me. I have never felt a runner’s high before, but I think Thursday was pretty close. I felt so vital, so proud, and so sweaty 🙂 I climbed a thousand feet and nearly quit because I got dizzy (don’t forget to hydrate! And, thank you to the anonymous gentlemen who pep-talked me into continuing). I finished, though–I proved to myself that I can do amazing things, follow through when the going is tough, and seriously whetted my appetite for some more–to build up to something bigger, grander, more exciting.

Not only that, but looking back at how difficult the ascent was for me (I did it on a whim with my kid sister, so I probably could have planned better), I know that I can tackle some other things that are difficult–like making phone calls, because those are awful–and come out of it a little better than before. Getting out for a run in the morning has a similar effect: if I can get through a mile or so before 9:00 in the morning, what else can I do with my day? Something super exciting or important!

So, this week, here is to running that extra lap, walking the extra mile (quite literally), or doing that crazy thing that looks so hard or sounds so awful. Trust me: achieving it will do so much for your self-esteem and outlook. Cheers!

Review: Cody, the Fitness App

For those of us with smart phones (or just the iTouch or whatever), we know what apps we spend the most time on. Looking at, updating, playing with. Right now, that favorite app for me is Cody. Need a little extra push to get moving? Active on social media or not so active (in either sense of the term)? Have you looked into Cody?

Cody is a free app (yep! I think that is pretty awesome! And there are no ads!) you can use as a motivational and social tool for fitness. My presence on social media is pretty small (on the blog, it’s limited to Facebook and Pinterest), but as far as I can tell, Cody functions as a sort of as an instagram or a blog for different people. Some post pictures of favorite foods, workouts, and transformations; some write a lot about different parts of the workout or heartfelt messages; some just straight up write reps and sets. You can follow people who inspire you, comment on posts (and like them), and search for different workouts by type (Crossfit, running, walking, swimming, hiking, and yoga are just a taste of the options) or search hashtags. And you definitely don’t need any social media experience to use it.

There are also training options and paid or free classes. I have yet to use either of these options, so I can’t review this aspect of the app. However, Cody is easy to use and loads quickly, so I would be surprised if there were issues with the videos. Beyond functionality, the graphics are really nice–fun and energizing, exactly what you would expect from Cody.

I use it to keep track of workouts. Cody is really keen on congratulating you, whether because your average speed has improved on your runs, or this is your longest barre workout to date, or you’ve been active for x weeks straight. And, the posters are super inspiring . In the app, you can post pictures or preloaded posters with your workout and there is a great variety of them (some are unique to each type of workout). The “awesome by choice” poster (I’ve seen it under running and barre) is my favorite. It inspires me to strive for a workout worthy of being posted beside such a poster.

Bottom line: Cody is a great app–motivational, social, and easy to use–and it is free, to boot. Anyone with an Apple product should look into it (Cody is  only available on the iTunes store at press time). I wholeheartedly recommend it.

Like this? Read my review on the Human fitness app or check out nutrition for beauty!

Walkable Cities

Photo courtesy of Unsplash

For those of you who have read In Defense of Food, you will remember the subtitle: Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants. Last year for a speech in my public speaking class I began a draft about living in walkable cities. I couldn’t get my hands on enough research quick enough, so instead I scrapped it, but not before I had finished my hook. Walk a lot. Live in cities–with narrow streets.

My interest in walkable cities was piqued after getting to go to Munich for a week and a half before my senior year. I had never liked the idea of driving (no huge, metal death trap for  me, thankyouverymuch) and cars weren’t necessary there (that was so eye-opening for me). The public transportation system was extensive: you could get more or less anywhere you wanted to go by train, tram, or bus. And in the center of the city (or in any of the small towns), the buses hardly mattered because you could get most anywhere on foot. Between exploring cities and castles and swimming in lakes, I lost seven pounds (and kept it off until it was time to put my nose to the grindstone and finish my college apps), and all because the incidental exercise that I did increased significantly.

Back in the States, I wish we had that kind of accessibility. I wish my town–my whole county, really–was walkable. That students, children, young mothers, and seniors could walk where they needed to go, whether for groceries, medical appointments, school, museums, theaters, or any other errand or recreational activity.

Think about places designed for walking: most high school or college campuses, amusement parks, malls. All of these places are easy to get around without a car and dense enough to hold your interest or serve your needs (hello, Room 419: Intro to College Literature). How awesome would it be if you could step outside, walk through the neighborhood park, get your groceries on the corner, check out some books from the library three doors down, buy your friend’s birthday present in one of the specialty shops, and then head home to a delicious dinner. Maybe afterward, you would walk down to the local cafe for a coffee with friends to laugh and talk. And all without once starting an engine.

Now, remember that humans have been building cities for millenia–before mass transportation and the personal automobile. These ancient cities were all designed for that kind of walking. Back in the day, walking was the only way for the average person to pick up the groceries, shop for the necessities to make that new dress, get to government functions, and get to church.

In these places, streets were built for people (they were narrow) and there were a lot of destinations (stores, churches, public buildings, parks) pretty densely packed. Then narrow streets and density allow people to do a lot of things in a walkable distance. With the advent of the subway, the walkable area of these cities increased dramatically when you take into account the area around each stop.

If you are interested by this picture I have painted, check out the TED talk by Jeff Speck below. He lays out three arguments for walkable cities: health, economics, and sustainability. The talk is 16 minutes long, but well worth it.

This post was inspired by today’s prompt and a long-languishing post in the drafts folder. What is your take on walkable cities? Is compact cool, or are the suburbs super? Leave a comment!