A new study has found that running a marathon can halt apoptosis, the natural 'programmed' death of cells.
Gabriella Marfe from the University of Rome 'Tor Vergata' led a team of researchers who studied ten amateur athletes after a 42km run.
The team studied peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs), isolated from whole blood samples taken from people after finishing a marathon, finding that the balance between expression of pro- and anti-apoptotic genes is shifted after the race.
"Apoptosis is a normal physiological function dependent on a variety of signals, many of which can be modulated by strenuous exercise. Here, we've shown for the first time that exercise modulates expression of the sirtuin family of proteins, which may be key regulators of training," Marfe said.
The scientists believe that the sirtuin family of proteins, particularly SIRT1, may be involved in the protective effects of exercise against cell death.
Talking about the study's findings, Marfe said: "Sirtuins may play a crucial role of mediators/effectors in the maintenance of skeletal and cardiac muscle tissues as well as neurons, thus explaining the synergic protective effects of physical exercise and calorie restriction for survival and ageing".
However, the researchers also caution that any exercise people carry out should be done properly.
Marfe said: "Untrained amateur athletes often do hard training without professional advice. Such intense and exhaustive exercise can be harmful to health. In order to achieve beneficial effects, we recommend that exercise training should form part of a lifelong regime with expert medical advice and supervision".
The study has appeared in the open access journal BMC Physiology.