Those Telling Telomeres

Women can impact cellular health with exercise

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Those darn telomeres just simply cannot keep a secret. They have a nasty habit of telling a woman's age and health status.

Telomeres are the DNA located on the ends of chromosomes and are a measure of cell age. The healthier a cell is, the longer its telomeres are.

Shortened telomeres can result  from psychological stress or traumatic episodes in one's life. A recent study is reporting that physical activity can lessen the effect of short telomeres, which have been associated with a broad range of age-related diseases and are predictive of a poor prognosis in cardiovascular disease as well as a variety of cancers.

"Postmenopausal women should vigorously exercise three times each week."

Co-author Jue Lin, PhD, associate research biochemist in the laboratory of senior author and Nobel laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, PhD, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at UCSF reported that traumatic life events and chronic stress seem to shorten telomeres in white blood cells of the immune system. 

This shortening of telomeres can be reduced with exercise. She observed this in the women who exercise vigorously at least three times per week.

Additionally, a new analysis of data led by Elissa Epel, PhD, associate professor of psychiatry at University of California San Francisco, showed in a group of women perceiving heightened stress, the only ones with shortened telomeres were those who didn't exercise. Epel believes exercise seemed to counteract the feeling of stress.

The Study

  • The study participants were 63 healthy menopausal women who were primary caregivers for a family member with dementia
  • The study broke these 63 women into three groups: First, post-menopausal women who were the primary caregivers for a family member with dementia and tend to be very stressed out. Second, young to middle-aged adults with post-traumatic stress disorder who are also stressed out but younger than the first group. Third, healthy, non-smoking women ages 50 to 65 years who are not as stressed out as the first two groups
  • The telomeres in question were located in white blood cells. These white blood cells job is to defend the body against both infections and cell damage
Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
April 4, 2011
Last Updated:
May 6, 2011