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Researcher Wilbert Vermeij: 'Physical exercise keeps you young'

The outdoor sports garden and the Maximaal Bewegen (Maximum Exercise) program say it all; the Princess Máxima Center not only provides state-of-the-art treatment, but also puts focus on a healthy lifestyle. Exercise is important for children with cancer during their therapy, but equally and perhaps more important after their treatment. Recent research conducted by Wilbert Vermeij and his colleagues points to that fact.

‘The research is especially important for preventing late side effects of the treatment,’ says Vermeij, researcher at the Princess Máxima Center. The intensive treatment can damage DNA and the late effects can vary significantly depending on the type of DNA damage. ‘The amount of residual DNA damage causes cells to age more rapidly,’ explains Vermeij. ‘We see this in children with rare progeria syndromes, whose DNA is weak to repair. And we also see it in children after they have been treated for cancer. Every course of treatment carries the risk of slightly raised levels of residual DNA damage. The damage accumulates and can ultimately lead to such disorders as heart or kidney failure. These are normal age-related illnesses, but can occur at an earlier age in former cancer patients due to the harsh chemotherapy treatments.’

Slow down aging

Vermeij and his colleagues, some of whom are attached to the University of Reading in England, seek ways to slow down aging. As an example, they studied whether muscle growth has any effect on aging. Under laboratory conditions they stimulated muscle growth in mice with the rare progeria syndrome. It turned out that the mice with increased muscle development were bothered less by aging. Kidneys, liver, bones and potentially even the nervous system stayed healthy for longer when muscle growth was stimulated. ‘The mice did not live longer, but they did remain healthier,’ says Vermeij. They published the results in a scientific journal.

Healthy activities

‘Playing sports and physical exercise are healthy activities for us all,’ says Vermeij, ‘but when one’s DNA might have been damaged due to chemotherapy it is especially beneficial to slow down aging as best as one can. Cycling, playing soccer, dancing, or any other kind of exercise is helpful, because it doesn’t matter which muscles you train.’