Aging is a complex process that is not well understood but involves finite changes at the genetic and epigenetic level. Physical activity is a well-documented modulator of the physiological process of aging. It has been suggested that the beneficial health effects of regular exercise are at least partly mediated through its effects on telomeres and associated regulatory pathways. Telomeres, the region of repetitive nucleotide sequences functioning as a "cap" at the chromosomal ends, play an important role to protect genomic DNA from degradation. Telomeres of dividing cells progressively shorten with age. Leucocyte telomere length (TL) has been associated with age-related diseases. Epidemiologic evidence indicates a strong relationship between physical activity and TL. In addition, TL has also been shown to predict all-cause and cardiovascular mortality. Experimental studies support a functional link between aerobic exercise and telomere preservation through activation of telomerase, an enzyme that adds nucleotides to the telomeric ends. However, unresolved questions regarding exercise modalities, pathomechanistic aspects and analytical issues limit the interpretability of available data. This review provides an overview about the current knowledge in the area of telomere biology, aging and physical activity. Finally, the capabilities and limitations of available analytical methods are addressed.
Keywords: aging; exercise; physical activity; telomerase; telomeres.