Introduction: Short leukocyte telomere length (LTL) has become a hallmark characteristic of aging. Some, but not all, evidence suggests that physical activity (PA) may play an important role in attenuating age-related diseases and may provide a protective effect for telomeres. The purpose of this study was to examine the association between PA and LTL in a national sample of US adults from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey.
Methods: National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey data from 1999 to 2002 (n = 6503; 20-84 yr) were used. Four self-report questions related to movement-based behaviors (MBB) were assessed. The four MBB included whether individuals participated in moderate-intensity PA, vigorous-intensity PA, walking/cycling for transportation, and muscle-strengthening activities. An MBB index variable was created by summing the number of MBB an individual engaged in (range, 0-4).
Results: A clear dose-response relation was observed between MBB and LTL; across the LTL tertiles, respectively, the mean numbers of MBB were 1.18, 1.44, and 1.54 (Ptrend < 0.001). After adjustments (including age) and compared with those engaging in 0 MBB, those engaging in 1, 2, 3, and 4 MBB, respectively, had a 3% (P = 0.84), 24% (P = 0.02), 29% (P = 0.04), and 52% (P = 0.004) reduced odds of being in the lowest (vs highest) tertile of LTL; MBB was not associated with being in the middle (vs highest) tertile of LTL.
Conclusions: Greater engagement in MBB was associated with reduced odds of being in the lowest LTL tertile.