Proceedings of The Physiological Society

Europhysiology 2018 (London, UK) (2018) Proc Physiol Soc 41, C049

Oral Communications

Effect of physical activity on telomere length in elderly subjects

V. Stenbäck1, S. Mutt1, J. Jokelainen3, J. Leppäluoto1, S. Keinänen-Kiukaanniemi3, K. Herzig1,2

1. Faculty of Medicine, Research Unit of Biomedicine, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland. 2. Medical Research Center Oulu, Oulu University Hospital, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland. 3. Center for Life Course Epidemiology and Systems Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland.


  • Figure 1. Moderate PA quartiles and RTL. Quartile 1 on the left with the least amount of moderate PA in a week and quartile 4 on the right with the most.

Background: Physical activity (PA) has been shown to alleviate the telomere shortening (1). Suggested mechanisms include inflammation control and reduction of oxidative stress through exercising (2). The effect of PA intensity on telomere length is unclear suggesting protective as well as damaging effects (3). The aim of this study is to determine the influence of different intensities of PA and PA history on telomere length in a cohort of elderly subjects. Methods: 700 human subjects born in Oulu in 1945 (Oulu Cohort 1945) were studied (296 male and 404 female; 68 to 70-years old). DNA was isolated from frozen whole blood using Macherey-Nagel Genomic DNA and quantified using Nanodrop. Relative telomere length (RTL) was determined using a qPCR-based method developed by Cawthon (4,5). PA was recorded with wrist-worn activity meter (Polar Active) from a 2-week period. A questionnaire was used to collect sedentary time, PA intensity and PA history. Statistical analyses were made with IBM SPSS Statistics 21. Pearson correlation coefficient was used to determine correlations and Mann-Whitney test to determine differences between classes. Data was divided into three groups according to age for analysis. Results: Women had longer RTL than men (p=0.031). Age was negatively correlated with RTL in men and women (-0.210, p=0,000 and -0.174, p=0.000). Women took significantly more steps during the 2-week period than men (p=0.001) but mean steps taken during the 2-week period significantly correlated with RTL only in men (p=0.05). In 70-year old subjects RTL was significantly correlated with total steps taken (0.202, p=0.04) and sedentary time (-0.247, p=0.007). Moderate PA was the only intensity able to induce significant changes between the quartiles, 0.023 between 4th and 1st , 0.04 between 4th and 2nd and 0.027 between 4th and 3rd (Figure 1). The effects of moderate PA were only visible in 70-year old subjects. Conclusions: Moderate physical activity has telomere protecting effects in old age. However, only the subject's current PA level is important and no differences were found concerning the PA history. Within two years, there is a difference in RTL, which suggests that the telomere attrition rate accelerates in older age. Women had longer RTL. Women took more steps, but in men the mean steps were significantly correlated with RTL. The observed gender difference can partially be explained by the traditional gender roles and differences in health observation and supplementation.

Where applicable, experiments conform with Society ethical requirements