03/08/2012 05:27 pm ET Updated May 06, 2012

How Does Exercise Make Moms Healthier? Active Moms Have Longer Stem Cells

Exercise affects the length of muscle stem cells, which play an important part in the muscle, organ and tissue repair process. Telomere length -- the length of the terminal caps (teeny DNA) of your chromosomes -- is considered to be a factor of aging and health. Vigorous exercise and activity may be associated with longer telomeres, and hence greater health and longevity.

Exercise also protects your telomeres from damaging, chronic psychological stress. Previous research has shown that stressed women who do not exercise have a 15-fold increase in the odds of having short telomeres. Those who do exercise had no perceived stress, nor any shortening of telomeres. With pregnancy and new motherhood being so stressful, this is crucial for moms.

We already know that the accumulation of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs), in skeletal muscle after exercise, is important in the muscle repair process. MSCs release growth factors, promoting other cells to generate new muscle. Age and inactivity decreases our MSCs.

Scientist Marni Boppart, Ph.D. Professor at Department of Kinesiology, University of Illinois and Beckman Institute for Advanced Science & Technology says,

This makes us wonder if they provide a critical link between enhanced whole-body health and participation in routine physical activity...Although exercise is the best strategy for preserving muscle..., some individuals are just not able to effectively engage in physical activity.

Without muscle strength, movement becomes difficult and a pregnancy can spiral into an early delivery. This could be one of the reasons why bed-rest can be so detrimental during pregnancy and must make us look at the importance of promoting some sort of activity for all pregnant women, however modified. Longer telomeres may by key to why a fit mom's placenta is so much bigger and more efficient in nourishing a growing baby.

We also know that high-intensity interval training effectively increases your production of human growth hormone (HGH), a.k.a. the "Fitness Hormone," which plays a vital role in your overall health, fitness and longevity. The bottom line is simple: vigorous exercise will help keep your body healthier and younger.

Short telomeres are a major risk factor for several diseases, including: decreased immune response against infections, type 2 diabetes, neuro-degenerative diseases, testicular, splenic, intestinal atrophy and DNA damage. All of which can be attributed to problems in pregnancy and with optimal healthy development of a baby.

Longer telomeres, therefore, seem to be important for a healthier pregnancy and baby. Your lifestyle can either speed up or slow down telomere shortening; Obesity, lack of exercise and good nutrition, psychological stress and smoking all aid the production of free radicals that speed up the telomere-shortening process. Exercise decreases telomere shortening, promoting overall health and longevity, essentially slowing down the cellular aging process that eventually kills you.

Leukocyte telomere length (LTL) is preserved with vigorous aerobic exercise, as well as increased glutathione levels. You can improve glutathione levels by eating foods rich in the sulfur amino acids your cells need to synthesize glutathione (such as high quality whey protein, animal foods and eggs). However, from healthier reproduction to anti-aging, exercise is still one of the most promising health strategies.