“Drop Kick My Genes Through the Goal Posts of Life” - Telomeres

December 09, 2009

Running with Telomeres: or “Drop Kick My Genes Through the Goal Posts of Life” 

 Reference: Circulation De 2009 Werner P 2438 Competency: Exercise 

 Telomeres are the ends of your DNA. We have always thought that they were made up by a bunch of nonsense DNA, as far as we know, on the end of each chromosome. You actually have a complex of proteins and enzymes bound up with that DNA that help protect them from degradation.  

Here is what happens. Every time a cell divides and the chromosome has to duplicate itself, the telomere gets a wee bit shorter. And shorter, and shorter. When they get too short, you die. Short telomeres are not formulas for healthy living. The whole field of anti-aging medicine can be summarized down to all the strategies that keep your telomeres healthy and long. Telomeres and all their associated regulatory proteins compose what’s called a “t-loop structure” at both ends of our chromosomes that protect them from degradation during cell divisions.   

There is an enzyme called telomerase with a catalytic protein subunit telomerase reverse transcriptase (TERT) that makes up the majority of the telomere complex. Other important proteins in the “t loop” are the telomere repeat-binding factors (TRFs), which interact with telomere-associated proteins and serve as binding platforms. 

What Dr. Werner was able to demonstrate is that exercising mice on running wheels up-regulates the activity of their telomere stabilizing proteins in their blood vessel wall and in white blood cells. The mechanism that did that was the increase in nitric oxide that subsequently protects against the normal signals for cells to go through natural cell death, called apoptosis. So, the cells live longer.  

In mice they could show this effect in just three weeks. Then, the research team looked at human athletes and their white blood cells. Since they had demonstrated that white cells have the same activity as the blood vessel lining cells, the changes could be observed with just a blood test of white cells. Presto, chango! Exercise does it in humans too! This is neat. We are now getting down to the real nitty-gritty of mechanisms about how exercise really works. It is magic bullet #2, in my book. (Love remains #1). And now we know why. It’s not just those crazy exercisers who are out there telling you how wonderful it is to get out and suffer pain when you would rather be watching the tube and eating popcorn. It’s your own genes that are happily keeping their telomeres protected when you exercise, and that gives you the bonus of having more days added to your total life span. 

 WWW. What Will Work for Me? Exercise is a particularly hard one to fit in. With help and companionship, I’m gradually making it a real habit. Maybe if I do a visual here as my telomeres being the goalposts on the playing field of life. And every time I exercise, it’s like a dropkick through the goalposts and a SCORE! Remember the horrible old song, “Drop Kick Me Jesus, through the goalposts of life”? We found the goalposts!

Column written by Dr John E Whitcomb, MD, Brookfield Longevity, Brookfield, WI. (262-784-5300)