What do a suburban beautician and fresh results from a health study of 6,500 Americans have in common? They both spruik a link between telomeres and aging.
When my beautician told me the new cream she was selling had won a Nobel Prize, I was a little skeptical. It was one of those examples of good science turned into bad marketing. The wording on the magic potion finessed the link between the serum and the science by saying it “includes a molecule discovered by (an) award winning Telomere Biologist ….. in the Nobel Prize winning field of telomere biology.” That’s how to sell a $300 face cream these days.
Coverage in the New York Times of the 6,500 person study, however, is far more potent. With all the usual caveats of what scientist can and can’t deduce from the numbers, writer Gretchen Reynolds says: Almost any amount and type of physical activity may slow aging deep within our cells ….. And middle age may be a critical time to get the process rolling, at least by one common measure of cell aging.
The science says telomeres, the caps that protect the ends of our strands of DNA, shorten and fray with age. Measuring telomeres is a way of determining the biological – that’s the functional, not the chronological – age of a cell. Dr Paul Loprozini co-authored the recent study with Dr Elizabeth Blackburn, one of the three scientists who won the Nobel Prize in 2009 for work on chromosomes and telomeres. According to the Times, he said it showed “exercise is good” for your cells, and “more exercise in greater variety” is likely to be even better.
The authors used data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey collected between1999 and 2002, studying 6503 people aged from 20-84 yrs. The participants answered questions on their levels of physical activity, and provided blood samples that were used to measure telomere length in white blood cells. An association between longer telomeres and more physical activity was discovered, with the highest correlation for people in the 40-65 year age group.
Maybe it’s my yoga bias but I can’t help thinking moving my butt regularly and often, and in different ways, is more likely to keep me healthy and, therefore, looking a little less haggard than slapping on a cream. The $300 I was going to spend for hope-in-a-pot can go on yoga classes, a new pair of walking shoes and, I think, a hula hoop.