There has been a lot of focus on “Long slow distance” (LSD) exercise and telomere health. I have oft quoted the “German Runners Study” which was actually a paper presentation and not a fully published work at the time that it got so much press. That study showed that men who ran at high levels (50 miles a week) had telomere length comparable to 25-year-olds.
It did not, however, address what other exercises they were doing, their supplementation habits, their family genetics and their overall lifestyles. More importantly it did not look at what their actual favorite distance was. If you run everyday, 50 miles a week boils down to about 6.7 miles a day. Five days a week and you are at 10 miles a run. These are not marathons, nor are they marathon training distances in most cases. Yet every marathon blog on the planet was saying “SEE! Marathons can make you live longer!” In point of fact, serious long term high level marathon training doesn’t even start until you hit about 70 miles a week and there is an association with cardiac dilatation, valvular dysfunction and potentially fatal cardiac arrhythmias, probably causing some of the famous “runners deaths” we read about from time to time. By the way, this is also seen in endurance cycling. I remind you, I have run ultra-marathons, which are often 3x marathon distance, but I have not done that my whole life and currently limit myself to 6 miles a run, maximum.
On the opposite end of the spectrum
Telomere length and weight training have not been adequately evaluated with a large well controlled study. There is, however, data on grip strength, leg strength and overall power generation and longevity, all of which suggests you need some muscle and especially power (max force x min time = max power) to live longer.
Additionally, there is a published study showing the benefits of “interval style” training for telomerase activation and telomere health.
For most people I still like this for getting in shape. In my practice, the LSD preselects out “people who can take it” because the only ones left standing are those with the genetics (and joints!) to tolerate the LSD. In addition, two other things to consider:
- People will want to generalize this to “fit” their sport. I guarantee you this will wind up on marathon blogs as proof of the “healthiness” of running marathons or some other thing. It will also wind up on gym blogs as proof that “exercise is good for longevity and come buy a membership to our gym!” This study was about cross country skiing and while it was endurance, it is a very different exercise than long distance running. Remember as you get out your Dr Dave Voodoo dolls that I am an ultra-runner and am telling you I do not think it is healthy for most! This is one reason I take high dose TA-65!
- The study does not address causality and we have no way of knowing that the long distance skiers do not do a lot of other healthy things that essentially preselect for longer telomeres and a better healthspan. Finally, the fastest way to improve your cardiac fitness and VO2 max is interval-style training. This will help any LSD work you do if you do that because, contrary to popular belief, LSD does not raise VO2 max much at all! I run ultras because I like what it does for my brain and I enjoy the solitude of moving through miles of territory most people avoid – not because it is good for my telomeres! Take your fish oil, Take TA-65 if you can, and absolutely consider getting on this. Have a rigorous regular exercise routine that includes mobility, strength and endurance. And keep your eyes open for my two books that should come out towards the end of this year.
Thanks to Andy Newman for asking this question!
I’ve also written extensively on lengthening your telomeres with your food choices as well as natural telomerase activators outside of just exercise. Remember good health takes a broad spectrum of attention, don’t just focus on lengthening your telomeres with exercise, get the complete picture