How to Lengthen Your Telomeres with Exercise — And Why You'll Want To

The key to keeping your body healthy starts down at the chromosome level. Here, science shows the optimal mix of exercise to strengthen your DNA.

a person doing a high-intensity movement in a workout class

At the outer tips of each chromosome in every cell of your body lie the protein caps called telomeres, which protect your genes from damage. Stress, aging, and disease can cause your telomeres to shorten in length — but the good news is that, by working out, you can not only maintain your telomeres' vibrancy but even rebuild (aka lengthen) them after being worn down.

So, you'll want to make it your exercise mission to keep these telomeres long and strong. After all, healthier DNA means a healthier you. Below, learn how to lengthen your telomeres using exercise, according to science.

How to Lengthen Your Telomeres with Exercise

There is a bunch of evidence that shows that working out is an answer to the question of how to lengthen your telomeres — potentially because exercise stimulates the body's production of the enzyme telomerase (which adds DNA to the telomeres). But what, exactly, is the most effective workout routine for keeping telomeres in the best shape?

A clear winner: aerobic exercise, aka cardio. A study published in the European Heart Journal found that a single 45-minute jog spiked telomerase activity in exercisers for several hours afterward, while a traditional weight-machine circuit had little to no effect. After working out three times per week for six months, the joggers — as well as a HIIT group (alternating four-minute hard runs with equal jogs) — saw a 3 to 4 percent increase in telomere length; the weights group saw no change.

Because the higher overall heart rate when doing endurance and interval exercise stimulates the cells that line the inside of the blood vessels, this causes an increase in telomerase (and nitric oxide synthase), explains lead study author Christian Werner, M.D. "So, it's basically like you're making a deposit into an antiaging account each time," he says.

But one workout is not enough: A systematic review of trials published in 2022 notes that cardio workouts need to be done for six months or more to see those telomere-lengthening results, consistent with the length of the study. And, still, you don't want to drop the weights altogether, says exercise scientist Michele Olson, C.S.C.S., Ph.D., senior clinical professor of exercise physiology at Huntingdon College in Montgomery, Alabama. "Resistance training is the key to maintaining muscle and bone as we age," she explains.

How to Track Your Telomere Fitness

The proliferation of at-home genetic testing services means that there are a variety of ways to get your telomeres tested. But be warned: Those tests are often pricey, and they may not always be reliable. As for how often you should check the length of your telomeres? "I recommend getting your telomeres tested every five to 10 years to see how you're aging," says Michael Manavian of Greenwich DX Sports Labs, a DNA-based health and performance testing center in Connecticut.

And in the meantime, follow the lead of trainer Jillian Michaels, whose book, The 6 Keys, reveals science-backed strategies for helping your body age better. "I always include HIIT training in my regimen — as well as yoga, which has been shown to lower stress and thereby also help preserve telomeres," she notes.

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