Stand Up! It’s Good for Your DNA

You probably have heard that an active lifestyle may increase your chances of living longer, but does that mean inactivity could shorten it? Well, several media outlets just published articles stating that sitting too much could age you by eight years! But before you quit your desk job to become a ski instructor, let’s look at what the evidence says.

How Does Sitting Impact How We Age?
The media buzz centers on a recent study from the University of California San Diego that measured physical activity and telomere length in almost 1,500 women. Telomeres are special structures that protect the ends of our DNA, and the rate at which they break down tells us something about how fast we are aging (longer telomeres = younger). This study found that women who spent more than 10 hours sitting had ~2.5% shorter telomeres (which is roughly equivalent to how much they would shorten over eight years) than those who engaged in more physical activity. Ten hours may sound like a lot of sitting time, but a day of driving, working at a desk, and lying on the couch can add up! This finding isn’t entirely new: A 2015 study of more than 6,400 women found a correlation between leisure-time screen-based sedentary behavior—like television and computer use—and shorter telomeres.

So Does This Mean You Can Never Sit Again?
Not quite. The evidence definitely suggests that an active lifestyle leads to longer telomeres, but there are other ways to protect your telomeres. For example, try to avoid stress, excess weight and smoking, as these have been associated with telomere shortening. On the other hand, evidence shows that some things actually protect your telomeres, such as exercising regularly. And what about standing more, or maybe trying a standing desk? Well, no one has measured these things and telomere length specifically, but we’re on the lookout for future studies. In the meantime, get those steps in every day, because it may keep your telomeres lengthy (and it’s good for you anyway!).

(Feature photo courtesy of

Tara Grieshaber

Tara Grieshaber is an intern with the Healthy Aging Project, and a student in the Integrative Physiology Department at the University of Colorado Boulder.