Exercise keeps your DNA young - and it's never too late to start


people exercising

A study on mortality rate in men with varying levels of physical activity, as would be expected, found that the group of men with high levels of physical activity had a 32% reduction in mortality rate compared to those in the sedentary group. 

A subset of these sedentary men began exercising at or around age 50 – after 10 years, these men had the same mortality rate as the men who had been actively exercising all along.1 

In addition to the many well-known benefits of exercise (prevents chronic disease, reduces cancer risk, beneficial for heart health), there is now accumulating evidence that exercise slows aging at the DNA level.

Telomeres are non-coding regions located on the end of linear chromosomes, and they are shortened with each cell division until the cell no longer divides. For this reason, telomere length is an indicator of cellular aging. Telomere length is maintained in actively dividing cells (such as stem cells and immune cells) by an enzyme called telomerase. There is an inverse association between leisure time exercise energy expenditure and telomere length – meaning that those who exercise regularly have “younger” DNA in their immune cells than those who are sedentary.2-3 A study of middle-aged German track and field athletes found not only longer telomeres in immune cells but also increased activity of the telomerase enzyme and decreased expression of cell-cycle inhibitors – molecules that prevent cell division – in these athletes compared to age-matched untrained individuals.4

Collectively, these studies tell us that exercise not only prevents disease, but promotes longevity, even if we get a late start.



1. Byberg L et al. Total mortality after changes in leisure time physical activity in 50 year old men: 35 year follow-up of population based cohort. BMJ 2009;338:b688

2. Ludlow AT et al. Relationship between Physical Activity Level, Telomere Length,

and Telomerase Activity. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2008 October ; 40(10): 1764–1771

3. Cherkas LF et al. The association between physical activity in leisure time and leukocyte telomere length. Arch Intern Med. 2008 Jan 28;168(2):154-8.

4. Werner C et al. Physical Exercise Prevents Cellular Senescence in Circulating Leukocytes and in the Vessel Wall. Circulation. 2009 Nov 30. [Epub ahead of print]


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Greg Kaler - December 10, 2009 7:58 PM

Awesome info Deanna. I will include some of it in my 45 minute school assembly program "Fitness For Life", which I present in 47 states. I always mention Dr. Fuhrman, Eat to Live, and Disease-proof Your Child.

Linda - December 11, 2009 5:42 PM

Interesting that the 2009 Nobel prize in physiology or medicine was awarded for telomere research. I live in Sweden where there was extensive TV coverage of the event this past Thursday, including interesting interviews with the 3 Nobel laureates themselves.

Greg - December 11, 2009 11:00 PM

Also important to many of us, it makes you feel good in the short term too! On days I exercise I feel great. And, on days when I exercise twice, I feel even better.

I'm constantly trying to get everyone in my life off the couch and down to the track with me. I'm a slow runner, but being able to run is a wonderful gift.

JP - April 14, 2010 8:56 PM

Great article Deana. There really are a ton of additional benefits to exercising that aren't so well-known...

cheap uggs - November 28, 2010 8:37 PM

I am impressed. You are working really hard.

Don Lowery - September 22, 2012 4:14 AM

On your LONG list of illnesses, I don't see the very common Metabolic Syndrome???? I have it and don't know what to do about it. Have been on the Nutaterian diet since Jan 3 of 2012 an little progress on waist reduction. Help!!!!!!!!!!


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