Date of Award


Document Type

Campus Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Exercise and Health Science

First Advisor

Tongjian You

Second Advisor

Suzanne G. Leveille

Third Advisor

Julie A. Wright


Strong evidence suggests that telomere length can be used as a cellular marker for biological aging. Physical activity (PA), as an important lifestyle factor, can potentially affect telomere length, especially in the older population. The purpose of this study was to examine the association between physical activity and leukocyte telomere length in nationally representative US adults aged 20-84 years, using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), 1999–2000. After adjusting for covariates such as age, gender, education, cigarette smoking and body mass index (BMI), none of the PA domains had a statistically significant relationship with telomere length. However, after conducting age-group-specific analyses, there was a positive association between leisure time PA and telomere length in older individuals (65-84 years old), but not in young (20-44 years old) and middle-aged (45-64 years old) individuals. In a subsample analysis among individuals aged 20-49 years who completed a submaximal cardiovascular fitness (VO2max) test, we found that there was a positive association between cardiovascular fitness and telomere length. Future studies should also examine the association between PA and telomere length by exploring other potential mediators and use objective PA measurements, and should examine the association between cardiovascular fitness and telomere length in a large sample including older adults.


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