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Intense Exercisers Have Longer Telomeres

Researchers in Homburg, Germany showed that 50-year-old men who ran more than 50 miles per week at a fast pace had telomeres (chromosome caps) that were almost the same length as those of 20-year-old runners on the German National Team, and more than 40 percent longer than those or inactive men of the same age (Circulation, December 2009). This is astounding because shortened telomeres represent aging.

The active ends of the genetic material (chromosomes) in cells are covered with a layer of proteins called telomeres. If they weren't, the exposed ends of the genetic material would stick to anything nearby and the cells would die. However, each time a cell divides to make two cells, a little bit of the telomere is removed. Eventually the telomere is gone, the ends of genetic material stick together and the cell can no longer divide so it dies without replacing itself. Obviously, the longer the telomeres, the longer it takes for the telomeres to be used up and the longer a cell lives.

Two years ago, researchers at King's College in London reported in 2,401 sets of twins that those who exercised regularly have telomeres that are longer than those of their twin couch potatoes (Archives of Internal Medicine, January 28, 2008). Other studies show that people who exercise regularly live an average of 12 years longer than non-exercisers (British Journal of Sports Medicine, March 2008). Most middle-aged and older athletes look significantly younger than non-exercisers of the same age.

Following the training methods of competitive athletes allows fit older people to run, cycle and do other sports at close to the level of much younger athletes. Recent studies show that intense exercise may also slow the effects of aging on their cells as well as their hearts and muscles. However, intense exercise can cause heart attacks in people with blocked arteries, so check with your doctor before you increase the intensity of your exercise program.

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Dear Dr. Mirkin: Does eating meat increase risk for diabetes?

Researchers analyzed the diets of 38,094 Dutch people and followed them for 10 years. They found that those who ate the most meat were the ones most likely to develop diabetes (Diabetes Care, January 2010). We know that refined carbohydrates, such as sugar water and flour, increase risk for diabetes by causing high rises in blood sugar, leading to high insulin which can exhaust the pancreas and cause both type I and II diabetes. However, we need a different explanation for the association between eating meat and diabetes.

A recent review of the world's scientific literature shows that saturated fats, found in high concentrations in meat, is the most likely cause of the association between eating meat and diabetes. Before insulin can do its job of driving sugar from the bloodstream into cells, it must first attach to small hooks on each cell called insulin receptors. Saturated fats block insulin receptors to prevent insulin from driving sugar into cells, causing a high rise in blood sugar levels (Current Opinion in Lipidology, February 2010). On the other hand, monounsaturated fats, found in olives and many seeds, make insulin receptors more available for insulin to lower blood sugar levels.

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Clarification of last week's article on weight training for older people:

Last week I recommended a weight training program for seniors: 1) join a gym 2) use 15-20 strength machines 3) use light weights 4) in one set of ten 5) daily 6) avoid next-day muscle soreness, 7) increase repetitions up to a single set of 25 before increasing weights.

This program is for beginners and is intended to prevent injuries that plague older people when they first try to lift weights. It will not build very large muscles, but it will increase strength and provide the other benefits of a weight training program. After many months (injury-free) on this program, if a person wishes to build larger muscles, he or she can transition to a more traditional weight training program.

If you are an older person who is already following a more aggressive program without injuries, there is no need to change.

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Recipe of the Week:

Trail mix bars

You'll find lots of recipes and helpful tips in The Good Food Book - it's FREE

June 21st, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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