Dr. Greg Wells Writes about Athletes and Telomeres

Dr. Greg Wells is a professor in the Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education at the University of Toronto. He's the author of Superbodies and he's one of the people commenting on biochemistry on Olympic broadcasts in Canada (see Muscles and the Lactic Acid Myth). It's somewhat unusual to promote yourself as "Dr. Wells" with a Ph.D. in physiology but that's his right.

Here's what he says on his blog,
Greg Wells, Ph.D. is a scientist and physiologist who specializes in health and performance in extreme conditions. Most recently, Dr. Wells was the host of the Gemini-Award winning “Superbodies” segments for Canada’s national Olympic broadcast and the on-camera sport science and sport medicine analyst for the CTV Broadcast Consortium, ABC News and ABC’s 20/20 during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Dr. Wells’ on-camera analysis will be a part of CTV’s 2012 Olympic broadcast in London.
Here's one of the "Superbodies" clips that are being shown on Canadian television. Most of them are quite interesting and informative even if Greg Wells does talk about lactic acid from time to time.

I was checking out his blog and found this interesting article: Olympic Science Blog: The science of exercise and ageing.
It is well established that training helps to improve pretty much every organ system in the body including the muscles, blood, brain, nervous system, skin, heart among others. Check out the book "Spark" to read about how exercise can help the brain! But new research shows that exercise can protect our genes as well!

In a recent study, researchers examined the DNA of young and old athletes and healthy control non-smokers for a total of four study groups. As expected, the researchers were able to demonstrate that the athletes had a slower resting heart rate, lower blood pressure and body mass index, and a more favorable cholesterol profile. But the surprising finding was that the rate of accumulated damage to the DNA was much less in the older athletes (average age: 51) than the older healthy non-athletes. In fact, the DNA of the older athletes was “younger” than the younger non-athlete participants. Researchers measured the ends of the chromosomes that contain our DNA. The ends of the chromosomes are called telomeres, and can be thought of as being similar to the caps on the end of your shoelaces (they’re called aglets in case you’re wondering) that prevent the laces from fraying. The scientists who discovered telomeres and how they work won the Nobel Prize in Physiology and Medicine in 2009. Telomeres control the number of times that a chromosome can divide when replicating itself as happens through our lifetime. Cells naturally grow, divide to replicate themselves and then die off. Gradually through this replication process, telomeres shorten and when they become “critically short” the cell dies. On the whole body level this may lead to ageing and a shortened lifespan. Scientists have shown that exercise activates an enzyme called telomerase that protects telomeres and chromosomes and that this has an anti-ageing effect, especially on the cardiovascular system.

World class athletes are training smarter, eating better, and recovering more effectively than ever before. The combination of these factors is helping athletes to have longer and more successful careers. So while you're watching our athletes compete in London and marveling at their performances, think about getting out and doing some exercise yourself! You'll be helping your body - right down to your DNA!
There's a lot wrong with this claim. First, it's not clear that there's a cause-and-effect relationship between telomore length and aging in spite of what some people claim. In fact, the correlation between age and telomere length is barely significant in most studies.

Second, it seems very unlikely that Lamarck was correct and it seems very unlikely that exercise has an effect on expression of the gene for telomerase.

Third, do you suppose it could be possible that when you get older and your health deteriorates for various reasons (disease, aging, accident) you tend not to continue to be an athlete? Thus, the only old athletes you measure are those that are still in good health?

Fourth, what's the evidence that telomere length has more of an effect on the cardiovascular system than on other parts of your body?

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