Running and other forms of aerobic exercise are associated with a wide range of physical and mental health benefits, and new research suggests it may also help to reverse the ageing process.
In a study published in the European Heart Journal, a group of German researchers set out to compare how different kinds of exercise – endurance training (continuous running), HIIT training (interval running) and resistance training (circuit training on gym machines) – affect how human cells age.
They found that running, either through endurance or interval training, slowed or even reversed signs of cellular ageing, but weight training did not.
To carry out this research, scientists examined telomeres, which are protective structures found at the end of chromosomes that prevent cells from deteriorating. As we age, telomeres get shorter, and become less protective.
They also looked at telomerase activity. Telomerase is an enzyme which can counteract the shortening of telomeres, and even lengthen these structures.
A total of 124 healthy but previously inactive participants completed the six-month study. They were split into groups and instructed to do three 45-minute sessions of either endurance training, HIIT or resistance training per week (there was also a control group, who made no lifestyle changes). The researchers then analysed telomere length and telomerase activity in respondents’ white blood cells from samples taken at the beginning and end of the study.
Lead author Professor Ulrich Laufs of Leipzig University, said: “Our main finding is that, compared to the start of the study and the control group, in volunteers who did endurance and high intensity training, telomerase activity and telomere length increased, which are both important for cellular ageing, regenerative capacity and thus, healthy ageing. Interestingly, resistance training did not exert these effects.
“The study identifies a mechanism by which endurance training – but not resistance training – improves healthy ageing,” he added.
Co-author Dr Christian Werner, of Saarland University, offered a possible explanation for these results, saying: “From an evolutionary perspective, endurance and high intensity training may mimic the advantageous travelling and fight or flight behaviour of our ancestors better than strength training.”
While of course there are many other benefits associated with weight training – it’s an affective way of burning body fat, boosting your metabolism, and has also been linked to improved mental health – the authors conclude that resistance training should be complementary to (rather than a substitute for) endurance training.
Current NHS guidelines recommend most adults should do 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity, such as cycling or brisk walking, or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise, like running, plus strength exercises that work all the major muscles on two or more days each week.
Let this be a reminder to mix up your workout routine.