Mode-specific physical activity and leukocyte telomere length among U.S. adults: Implications of running on cellular aging

Prev Med. 2016 Apr;85:17-19. doi: 10.1016/j.ypmed.2016.01.002. Epub 2016 Jan 12.


Background: Previous research demonstrates that physical activity participation is associated with longer leukocyte telomere length, with shorter leukocyte telomere length being a hallmark characteristic of cellular aging. What remains under-investigated, however, is whether there is a mode-specific association of physical activity on leukocyte telomere length, which was this study's purpose.

Methods: Data from the 1999-2002 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey were used (N=6474 adults analyzed). Leukocyte telomere length was assessed using quantitative polymerase chain reaction. Physical activity was assessed via self-report, with participants classified as meeting physical activity guidelines (≥2000 metabolic equivalent of task-min-month) for 9 separate physical activities, including aerobics (unweighted percent meeting guidelines: 2.98%; n=193), basketball (2.0%; n=129), bicycling (3.71%; n=240), dance (2.30%; n=149), running (3.09%; n=200), stair climbing (1.33%, n=86), swimming (1.85%, n=120), walking (13.53%; n=876), and weight lifting (2.61%; n=169).

Results: In a single multivariable linear regression model including the independent variables of age, gender, race-ethnicity, weight status, total cholesterol, C-reactive protein, total metabolic equivalent of task-min-month of physical activity and the 9 binary meeting physical activity guideline variables, the only mode of physical activity that was significantly associated with leukocyte telomere length was meeting physical activity guidelines from running (β=0.06; 95% CI: 0.01-0.11; P=0.03).

Conclusion: Running-specific physical activity was the only evaluated physical activity associated with leukocyte telomere length, which may provide one potential mechanism (i.e., leukocyte telomere length) through which running-based physical activity may help to prevent cardiovascular disease and premature mortality.

Keywords: Cellular aging; Epidemiology; Running.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cellular Senescence / genetics*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Leukocytes / metabolism*
  • Linear Models
  • Male
  • Nutrition Surveys
  • Running / physiology*
  • Telomere / genetics*
  • United States