If you stand up right now, you’ll be extending your life. Scientists have discovered that sitting down not only causes all kinds of health problems, but it might actually also make you age quicker.
“Our study found cells age faster with a sedentary lifestyle. Chronological age doesn’t always match biological age,” writes lead author Aladdin Shadyab of the UC San Diego School of Medicine in a release.
Our DNA has protective caps at its ends called telomeres. These caps deteriorate, like so much else, with age, and their decline can be accelerated by activities like smoking, or being overweight. But now Shadyab and his team have linked telomere decline with a lack of physical activity. In short, if you sit all day, then your cells will age much faster than if you are active. Your body, at the cellular level, may be older than you think.
In the study, around 1,500 women aged 64 to 95 wore fitness-tracking accelerometers for seven days, both while sleeping and awake. Participants were also questioned about their activity, or lack of it. A sample question: “During a usual day and night, about how many hours do you spend sleeping or lying down with your feet up? Be sure to include the time you spend sleeping or trying to sleep at night, resting or napping, and lying down watching TV.”
Their activity levels were compared to the lengths of their telomeres, and the results show that those who laze around for 10 hours a day do indeed have significantly shorter telomeres than those who are more active. And because old people are already less active than youngsters, they age even faster. “The most sedentary women were biologically older by eight years,” says the study. “Our findings have important implications for an aging population, in which greater time spent sedentary and less physical activity tend to be the norm.”
However, a relatively small amount of exercise can save the day. “We found that women who sat longer did not have shorter telomere length if they exercised for at least 30 minutes a day, the national recommended guideline,” said Shadyab in an interview with UC San Diego News’ Michelle Brubaker.
This shows that exercise and activity are even more important as we age. Just a half hour of walking and moving around can knock up to eight years off the age of your body. And eight years is a pretty big deal when you’re already pushing 80.