University of Oulu

Jantunen H, Wasenius N, S, Guzzardi M, A, Iozzo P, Kajantie E, Kautiainen H, Salonen M, K, Eriksson J, G: Physical Activity and Telomeres in Old Age: A Longitudinal 10-Year Follow-Up Study. Gerontology 2020;66:315-322.

Physical activity and telomeres in old age : a longitudinal 10-year follow-up study

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Author: Jantunen, Hanna1,2,3; Wasenius, Niko S1,2; Guzzardi, Maria Angela4;
Organizations: 1Folkhälsan Research Center, Helsinki, Finland
2Department of General Practice and Primary Health Care and Helsinki University Hospital, University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
3Department of Clinical Physiology, Skin and Allergy Hospital, Helsinki University Hospital, Helsinki, Finland
4Institute of Clinical Physiology, National Research Council (CNR), Pisa, Italy
5Public Health Promotion Unit, National Institute for Health and Welfare, Helsinki, Finland
6PEDEGO Research Unit, MRC Oulu, Oulu University Hospital and University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland
7Department of Clinical Molecular Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Trondheim, Norway
8Children’s Hospital, Helsinki University Hospital and University of Helsinki, Helsinki, Finland
9Singapore Institute for Clinical Sciences (SICS), Agency for Science and Technology (A*STAR), Singapore, Singapore
10Obstetrics and Gynecology, Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, National University of Singapore and National University Health System, Singapore, Singapore
Format: article
Version: accepted version
Access: open
Online Access: PDF Full Text (PDF, 0.4 MB)
Persistent link:
Language: English
Published: Karger, 2020
Publish Date: 2021-02-21


Background: Telomeres are crucial parts of chromosomes that protect the genome. They shorten every time the cell replicates, and shorter telomeres have been associated with increasing age and with many health behaviours. There is inconclusive evidence on the association between physical activity (PA) and telomere length.

Objectives: To examine how leisure-time PA (LTPA) is associated with telomere length and telomere attrition during 10 years of follow-up in elderly people.

Design: This study is a 10-year prospective follow-up study.

Method: For this prospective study, we examined 1,014 subjects (mean age at baseline 60.8 years) from the Helsinki Birth Cohort Study (HBCS). Relative leukocyte telomere length (LTL) was measured with a quantitative real-time PCR and LTPA with a validated questionnaire. Multiple linear regression analyses were used to assess the association between sex-specific LTPA quartiles and LTL at baseline and change in LTL over 10 years. The analyses were adjusted for age, educational attainment, smoking, body fat percentage, oestrogen exposure in women and for follow-up time when applicable.

Results: At baseline, volume of LTPA was not associated with LTL in men (p = 0.66) or in women (p = 0.33). Among women, however, higher volume of LTPA at baseline was associated with greater shortening of LTL (p for linearity 0.040) during the 10-year follow-up. No association was found among men (p for linearity 0.75).

Conclusions: Our findings suggest that PA has a sex-specific role in regulation of telomere length in the aging process as in our study a high volume of LTPA in elderly women, but not in men, was associated with more rapid telomere attrition.

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Series: Gerontology
ISSN: 0304-324X
ISSN-E: 1423-0003
ISSN-L: 0304-324X
Volume: 66
Issue: 4
Pages: 315 - 322
DOI: 10.1159/000505603
Type of Publication: A1 Journal article – refereed
Field of Science: 3121 General medicine, internal medicine and other clinical medicine
Funding: HBCS was supported by grants from British Heart Foundation; Finska Läkaresällskapet; Samfundet Folkhälsan; Juho Vainio Foundation; Signe and Ane Gyllenberg Foundation; The Diabetes Research Foundation; Finnish Foundation for Cardiovascular Research and EU H2020-PHC-2014-DynaHealth (grant no. 633595). The Academy of Finland supported J.G.E. (grant nos.129369, 129907, 135072, 129255 and 126775). The funding sources had no role in the study design, collection, analysis or interpretation of the data or writing of the report.
EU Grant Number: (633595) DYNAHEALTH - Understanding the dynamic determinants of glucose homeostasis and social capability to promote Healthy and active aging
Copyright information: © 2020 S. Karger AG, Basel. This is the accepted manuscript version of an article published by S. Karger AG in Gerontology 2020;66:315-322. doi: 10.1159/000505603 and available on