People who care for chronically ill family members are at high risk for stress and health problems. They are also less likely to exercise. These risk factors are linked to having shorter telomeres, the caps that protect the ends of DNA. Telomeres shorten over a person’s lifetime, and shorter telomeres are thought to contribute to age-related diseases, including cancer and cardiovascular disease.
To learn more, NCATS Clinical and Translational Science Awards Program-supported researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, conducted a study of older individuals caring for family members with dementia. They sought to determine if exercising could lengthen telomeres in this high-risk group of caregivers who did not regularly exercise before the study. As published in the December 2018 issue of Psychoneuroendocrinology, they found that participants in the six-month exercise program had longer telomeres than they did at the start of the study. Those who exercised also lost weight and reported that they had less stress. Participants in the control group that did not exercise had slightly shorter telomeres after six months, an expected outcome from aging.
Additional research is needed to better understand why the exercising participants’ telomeres were longer, but the results suggest there are ways to potentially lengthen telomeres in older adults, which could lead to better health outcomes as they continue to age.
Posted January 2019