Federation University Australia PhD student Joshua Denham conducted the study, which was led by Professor Fadi Charchar. Their work looked into the impact of running on telomeres in the human body.
“Within our cells telomeres are structures that work similar to the plastic parts or aglets of our shoelaces – that is, they protect our genes from fraying,” explained Dr Charchar.
“Telomeres unfortunately get shorter with age. The shorter they are the more prone to disease we are. The trick is that we can actually do things to make our telomeres last longer.
“We found that doing running – and lots of running – can do wonders for telomeres.”
Ultra-marathon runners who ran 40 to 100 km a week exhibited 11 per cent longer telomeres, the findings showed. This 11 per cent differences translated to 16 years longer life expectancy.
“Patients with a variety of chronic diseases exhibit shorter telomeres when compared to healthy individuals,” Dr Charchar said. “The ultra-marathoners from our study had an average age of 43. According to our results, their biological age would be 27.
“But there are many questions left answered in regards to exercise and the effect on telomere length,” Dr Charchar cautioned.
The professor went on to list grey areas such as the minimum amount of exercise needed to confer the ideal telomere length and how the telomeres are being maintained.
The research has been published in PLOS one, the scientific research journal.