Do Couch Potatoes Live Longer?

A new study confirms what I’ve suspected for years:

Cardio shrinks your telomeres.

Even a couch potato who does no exercise at all may be better off from a telomere length standpoint than the folks who run marathons and spend hours on treadmills.

Why is this important to you?

Because many of today’s most widespread conditions and illnesses are associated with shorter telomeres. Telomeres are the tiny genetic “clocks” that tell your cells how old they are.

Today, I’ll show you the simple alternative to cardio that can help you maintain your telomeres, so you can live stronger and longer.

It’s the opposite of aerobics and other endurance exercises, which shorten your telomeres and make you more susceptible to cancer and heart disease.

In one telomere study, people with the longest telomeres were the least likely to develop cancer. They were more than 10 times less likely to develop cancer than people with short telomeres.1 And when I read further into the study, I discovered that people with short telomeres are twice as likely to die from cancer.

Another study shows that the death rate for heart attacks is almost three times higher for people whose telomeres get short the fastest.2

As bad as it is to have accelerated telomere loss, that’s exactly what endurance exercise does. And the studies proving it have been completely ignored by mainstream fitness “experts.”

In one, researchers followed up on the known fact that long-term, cardio-type exercise damages your muscle cells. They decided to take it a little further and examine the damaged cells. One of the things they looked at was the length of the telomeres inside these muscle cells.

Athletes with “exercise fatigue” – the athletes doing the long-duration cardio workouts – had much shorter than normal telomeres.

The title of this study, as it appeared in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, sums it up perfectly: “Athletes with exercise-associated fatigue have abnormally short muscle DNA telomeres…”

And, if that’s not enough, in another more recent study researchers compared trained athletes to “sedentary individuals.”

They looked at the telomere lengths of trained athletes doing cardio vs. coach potatoes who did no exercise at all.

The couch potatoes had longer telomeres than the endurance athletes.

In fact, the experienced runners ALL had shorter telomeres than the people doing no exercise. What’s more, the longer the runners ran, the shorter their telomeres.

Fortunately for you, we now have the ability to influence the length of these tiny genetic clocks. You can have younger-acting cells and help avoid age-related problems by maintaining your telomere length.

The most powerful way to do this is to do the opposite of what fitness experts recommend.

Instead of hours of low-power exercises like running and cardio, you can maintain the length of your telomeres with shorter periods of exertion where you challenge yourself a bit more.

You see, cardio is a low-power exercise. Think about what it’s like when you run – it’s steady plodding and pounding for a long period of time.

What you want to do instead is give your body a challenge, and do it over shorter periods of time.

For instance, one study done at the University of California in San Francisco found that vigorous exertion protects you from high stress by protecting your telomeres.3 And there are dozens more trials that show the same thing.

So,instead of cardiovascular endurance exercise, think “cardiopulmonary exertion.”

You can do this kind of exertion by keeping the time brief, and challenging your heart and lungs just a bit more with each set of exertion, and with each workout. This is called “progressivity,” and it’s what every modern workout program lacks.

Progressivity means you increase the difficulty (pick up the pace or increase the resistance) just a little bit with each set, and in each workout after that.

Doing just a little bit more, or changing it up in some way to give your heart and lungs a different challenge gives you the same benefit as increasing the time you spend working out.

You’ll reprogram your muscles, heart and lungs to get stronger and more responsive. And you’ll reverse the wear and tear on your body and maintain your telomeres instead of breaking them down faster.

With that in mind, let me give you one movement you can do right in your own home, no equipment necessary, that will challenge your heart, lungs and several large muscle groups.

It’s called a Dive Bomber.

1. Begin with your body looking like an upside-down “V” from the side. Position yourself like you would for a pushup, but with your butt up in the air, and your head between your arms. (If you’re familiar with yoga, it should look like a “downward-facing dog.”)

2. Next, swoop your head, followed by your body, downward as if you were a bird or plane diving toward the ground.

3. Then drive your torso straight up, so that you’re looking directly ahead. Keep the hips low to the ground and your hands directly below your shoulders. It will be as if you were trying to dive under a large ball hanging over your back. (In yoga, this position is called “cobra.”)

A true dive-bomber pushup means you repeat the above steps in reverse order until you’re back to your original starting position, staying as fluid and smooth as possible.

If you’ve never done a dive bomber before, start with just a few. Go slowly, especially if running or some extreme workout program has caused you to hurt your back in the past. This movement is designed so that you can be progressive without going faster to increase the challenge.

You can add progressivity by holding the pose in each direction a bit longer, or do a few more than you did last time. Or you can do a calf raise or a set of calf raises before each Dive Bomb.

And remember, working out should be fun. You don’t have to do a regimented number of movements, and you don’t have to strictly time yourself. You can change it up. Just keep it progressive.

P.S. If you’d like to learn more about how progressivity works, and discover more ways you can build yourself a naturally younger body, subscribe to my Confidential Cures newsletter. The newest issue came out today, and as a bonus, you’ll get my special report “Are Your Lungs Dying?” that shows you how to use progressivity and why it will work to transform your body, including over 20 pages of workouts you can use starting today. Click here and get this exclusive report as a free gift!


1. Armanios M, Alder J, Parry E, Karim B, Strong M, Greider C. “Short Telomeres are Sufficient to Cause the Degenerative Defects Associated with Aging.” Am J Hum Genet. 2009 December 11; 85(6): 823–832.
2. Epel E, Blackburn E. Unpublished study in Aging, as reported to Cathryn Delude in “Genetic clues to predicting life span: Inside chromosomes are telomeres that age as we age, and may serve as indicators of how long we’ll live.” Los Angeles Times. March 2, 2009.
3. Puterman E, Lin J, Blackburn E, O’Donovan A, Adler N, et al. “The Power of Exercise: Buffering the Effect of Chronic Stress on Telomere Length.” PLoS ONE May 2010. 5(5): e10837

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Articles and Research about Telomere Studies and Aging

I’ve compiled a list of related studies for those of you interested in reading more about Telomeres:

The effect of resveratrol on the Werner syndrome RecQ helicase gene and telomerase activity
Uchiumi F, Watanabe T, Hasegawa S, Hoshi T, Higami Y, Tanuma S.
Curr Aging Sci. 2011 Feb;4(1):1-7.
Read full article >>

Resveratrol-Induced Augmentation Of Telomerase Activity Delays Senescence Of Endothelial Progenitor Cells
Wang XB, Zhu L, Huang J, Yin YG, Kong XQ, Rong QF, Shi AW, Cao KJ.
Department of Cardiology, Taizhou People’s Hospital, Second Affiliated Medical College of Yangzhou University, Taizhou, Jiangsu 225300, China
Read full article >>

Chinese Tea Consumption Is Associated With Longer Telomere Length In Elderly Chinese Men
Chjan R, Woo J, Suen E, Leung, Tang N.
British Journal of Nutrition. January 2010; Volume103, Issue01, pp 107-113.
Read full article >>

Vitamin C Treatment Promotes Mesenchymal Stem Cell Sheet Formation And Tissue Regeneration By Elevating Telomerase Activity
Wei F, Qu C, Song T, Ding G, Fan Z, Liu D, Liu Y, Zhang C, Shi S, Wang S.
Journal of Cell Physiol. 2012 Sep;227(9):3216-24.
Read full article >>

Increased Telomerase Activity And Vitamin D Supplementation In Overweight African Americans
Zhu H, Guo D, Li K, Pedersen-White J, Stallmann-Jorgensen IS, Huang Y, Parikh S, Liu K, Dong Y.
Int J Obes (Lond). 2012 Jun;36(6):805-9.
Read full article >>

Ginko Biloba Reduces Endothelial Progenitor Cell Senescence Through Augmentation Of Telomerase Activity
Dong XX, Hui ZJ, Xiang WX, Rong ZF, Jian S, Zhu CJ.
Journal of Cardiovascular Pharmacology. Feb 2007, vol.49, issue 2, pp. 111-115.
Read full article >>

Telomere Length In Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells Is Associated With Folate Status In Men
Paul L, Cattaneo M, D’Angelo A, Sampietro F, Fermo I, Razzari C, Fontana G, Eugene N, Jacques PF, Selhub J.
J Nutr. 2009 Jul;139(7):1273-8. Epub 2009 May 20.
Read full article >>

Leukocyte Telomere Length In Major Depression: Correlations With Chronicity, Inflammation And Oxidative Stress – Preliminary Findings
Wolkowitz OM, Mellon SH, Epel ES, Lin J, Dhabhar FS, Su Y, Reus VI, Rosser R, Burke HM, Kupferman E, Compagnone M, Nelson JC, Blackburn EH.
PLoS One. 2011 Mar 23;6(3):e17837.
Read full article >>

Telomere Attrition And Decreased Fetuin-A Levels Indicate Accelerated Biological Aging And Are Implicated In The Pathogenesis Of Colorectal Cancer
Maxwell F, McGlynn LM, Muir HC, Talwar D, Benzeval M, Robertson T, Roxburgh CS, McMillan DC, Horgan PG, Shiels PG.
Clin Cancer Res. 2011 Sep 1;17(17):5573-81.
Read full article >>

Estrogen [Does Not Increase] Telomerase in Human Peripheral Blood Mononuclear Cells
Benko AL, Olsen NJ, Kovacs WJ.
Mol Cell Endocrinol. 2012 Nov 25;364(1-2):83-8.
Read full article >>

Pain Is Associated With Short Leukocyte Telomere Length In Women With Fibromyalgia
Hassett AL, Epel E, Clauw DJ, Harris RE, Harte SE, Kairys A, Buyske S, Williams DA.
J Pain. 2012 Oct;13(10):959-69.
Read full article >>

Telomere Length Increases with Decreasing Omega-6 to Omega-3 Ratios
Kiecolt-Glaser JK, Epel ES, Belury MA, Andridge R, Lin J, Glaser R, Malarkey WB, Hwang BS, Blackburn E.
Brain Behav Immun. 2012 Sep 23. pii: S0889-1591(12)00431-X.
Read full article >>

Cellular Senescence, Vascular Disease, and Aging
Jason C. Kovacic, MD, PhD; Pedro Moreno, MD; Vladimir Hachinski, MD, DSc; Elizabeth G. Nabel, MD; Valentin Fuster, MD, PhD
Circulation. 2011; 123: 1650-1660
Read full article >>

Educational Attainment And Late Life Telomere Length In The Health, Aging And Body Composition Study
Adler N, Pantell M, O’Donovan A, Blackburn E, Cawthon R, Koster A, Opresko P, Newman A, Harris TB, Epel E.
Brain Behav Immun. 2012 Sep 5. pii: S0889-1591(12)00422-9.
Read full article >>

Telomeres Detrmine Longevity in Mammals
ANI Friday, Sep 28, 2012
Read full article >>

Hidden Risks of Chronic Stress
US News and World Report Sep 18, 2012
Read full article >>

Depression Gets Old Fast: Do Stress and Depression Accelerate Cell Aging?
Owen M. Wolkowitz, M.D., Elissa S. Epel, PhD, Victor I Reus, M.D., and Synthis H. Mellon, PhD.
Department of Psychiatry, University of California School of Medicine, San Francisco, California, USA.
Read full article >>

Making Cells Live Forever in Quest for Cures
Wall Street Journal | By Shirley S. Wang
Read full article >>

Telomere-dependent senescent phenotype of lens epithelial cells as a biological marker of aging and cataractogenesis
Read full article >>

Telomere length, stem cells and aging
Maria A Blasco, Telomeres and Telomerase Group, Molecular Oncology Program, Spanish National Cancer Centre, Madrid, Spain. Published online 17 September 2007/ Nature Chemical Biology 2007.38
Read full article >>

Inside chromosomes are telomeres that age as we age, and may serve as indicators of how long we’ll live
L.A. Times |Cathryn Delude
Read full article >>

Enzyme takes us a step closer to eternal youth
NewScientist | Linda Geddes
Read full article >>

Telomerase Reverse Transcriptase Delays Aging in Cancer-Resistant Mice
Antonia Tomás-Loba, Ignacio Flores, Pablo J. Fernández-Marcos, María L. Cayuela, Antonio Maraver, Agueda Tejera, Consuelo Borrás, Ander Matheu, Peter Klatt, Juana M. Flores, José Viña, Manuel Serrano and Maria A. Blasco
Read full article >>

Lifestyle change may reduce aging, disease
Read full article >>

Increased telomerase activity and comprehensive lifestyle changes: a pilot study
Prof Dean Ornish MD, Jue Lin PhD, Jennifer Daubenmier PhD, Gerdi Weidner PhD, Elissa Epel PhD, Colleen Kemp MSN, Mark Jesus M Magbanua PhD, Ruth Marlin MD, Loren Yglecias BA, Prof Peter R Carroll MD and Prof Elizabeth H Blackburn PhD
Read full article >>

Telomere Length and Mortality: A Study of Leukocytes in Elderly Danish Twins
Masayuki Kimura, Jacob v. B. Hjelmborg, Jeffrey P. Gardner, Lise Bathum, Michael Brimacombe, Xiaobin Lu, Lene Christiansen, James W. Vaupel, Abraham Aviv, and Kaare Christensen; American Journal of Epidemiology Advance Access
Read full article >>

A “Nobel” Way to Avoid Cancer

Have you heard of telomeres yet? I’ve written about them and lectured to the World Conference on Anti-Aging. It’s big news in the world of anti-aging. In fact, research into telomeres won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 2009.

I call telomeres “countdown clocks” because they determine how long your cells can live. Each time a cell divides, your DNA copies itself. Telomeres are caps on the ends of your DNA strands that lay down the blueprint for the copies.

But, each time your cells divide, a little bit of each telomere is used up, and each gets a tiny bit shorter. When your telomeres become too short, DNA can’t copy itself correctly, and the cell stops dividing… and it dies. Overall, the shorter your telomeres, the “older” your body is, regardless of your actual age.1

You can alter your aging clock by how you eat and how you live. Obesity and smoking will shorten your telomeres and speed up your countdown clock. But exercise appears to slow telomere shortening,2 which slows your clock down, too.

This is all great news because we now know the mechanism by which you age, and we can alter it. But there’s another reason this is so significant…

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that longer telomeres can dramatically reduce your risk of cancer.3

There’s a lot of evidence linking short telomeres to a higher risk of cancer. For instance:

  • A Virginia study found that breast cancer cells had shorter telomeres than normal cells.4
  • A research team at Harvard discovered that having short telomeres nearly doubled the risk for bladder cancer.5
  • According to Japanese researchers, cancers of the mouth begin in cells with short telomeres.6
  • Even colon cancer cells have shorter telomeres.7

Here’s where that new Italian study comes in, because it measured overall cancer risk. These doctors found that people with the longest telomeres were the least likely to develop cancer. In fact, they were more than 10 times less likely to develop cancer than people with short telomeres.8

And people with short telomeres are twice as likely to die from cancer.

By taking a few simple steps to promote longer telomeres, you may boost your chances of enjoying your extra years cancer-free.

Exercise is one of the best ways to slow the aging of your cells to a crawl and reduce your risk of cancer. One reason was discovered by researchers in Germany. They found that intensive exercise keeps your cardiovascular system from aging by preventing shortening of telomeres.9

Another comes from a study done at the University of California in San Francisco. It found that vigorous exertion protects you from high stress by protecting your telomeres.10

Feeding yourself properly can also lengthen your telomeres. Cold-water, high-fat fish like mackerel, wild salmon, lake trout and herring are good sources of omega-3, which can lengthen your telomeres.11 Also, you can eat plenty of raw nuts and seeds. Walnuts, brazil nuts, almonds and pumpkin seeds are some of my favorites.

Besides exercise and eating the right foods, did you know that supplements also offer protection for your telomeres?

For example, according to the National Institutes of Health, women who simply take a multivitamin have 5 percent longer telomeres than those who don’t.12

And nutrients – such as vitamins C and E and resveratrol – also appear to slow the shortening of telomeres.13,14

One vitamin is actually linked with lengthening your telomeres, and you don’t even need a pill to get it. It’s vitamin D.15 Just 10 minutes in the sun gets you 10,000 units.


  1. Mary Armanios, Jonathan K. Alder, Erin M. Parry, Baktiar Karim, Margaret A. Strong, and Carol W. Greider. “Short Telomeres are Sufficient to Cause the Degenerative Defects Associated with Aging.” Am J Hum Genet. 2009 December 11; 85(6): 823–832.
  2. Song Z., et al, “Lifestyle impacts on the aging-associated expression of biomarkers of DNA damage and telomere dysfunction in human blood,” Aging Cell Aug. 2010; 9(4): 607-15
  3. Willeit P., et al, “Telomere Length and Risk of Incident Cancer and Cancer Mortality,” JAMA, 2010; 304(1): 69-75
  4. Diehl M.C., et al, “Elevated TRF2 in advanced breast cancers with short telomeres,” Breast Cancer Res Treat. July 13, 2010
  5. McGrath M., et al, “Telomere length, cigarette smoking and bladder cancer risk in men and women,” Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. April 2007; 16(4): 815-9
  6. Aida J., et al, “Telomere lengths in the oral epithelia with and without carcinoma,” Eur J Cancer Jan. 2010; 46(2): 430-8
  7. Rampazzo E., et al, “Relationship between telomere shortening, genetic instability and site of tumour origin in colorectal cancers,”.Br J Cancer Apr. 13, 2010; 102(8):1300-5
  8. Mary Armanios, Jonathan K. Alder, Erin M. Parry, Baktiar Karim, Margaret A. Strong, and Carol W. Greider. “Short Telomeres are Sufficient to Cause the Degenerative Defects Associated with Aging.” Am J Hum Genet. 2009 December 11; 85(6): 823–832.
  9. Christian Werner, MD et. al. “Physical Exercise Prevents Cellular Senescence in Circulating Leukocytes and in the Vessel Wall.” Circulation. 2009;120:2438-2447
  10. Puterman E, Lin J, Blackburn E, O’Donovan A, Adler N, et al. “The Power of Exercise: Buffering the Effect of Chronic Stress on Telomere Length.” PLoS ONE May 2010. 5(5): e10837
  11. Ramin Farzaneh-Far, M.D., “Association of Marine Omega-3 Fatty Acid Levels with Telomeric Aging in Patients with Coronary Heart Disease,” JAMA 2010; 303(3):250-257
  12. Qun Xu, et al, “Multivitamin use and telomere length in women,” Am J Clin Nutr March 11, 2009
  13. Qun Xu, et al, “Multivitamin use and telomere length in women,” Am J Clin Nutr March 11, 2009
  14. L Xia, et al, “Resveratrol reduces endothelial progenitor cells senescence through augmentation of telomerase activity by Akt-dependent mechanisms,” British Journal of Pharmacology Jan. 29, 2009; Volume 155 Issue 3, 387–394
  15. Richards, J Brent, et al, “Higher serum vitamin D concentrations are associated with longer leukocyte telomere length in women,” Journal of Clinical Nutrition Nov. 2007; Vol. 86, No. 5, 1420-1425

Health For Life

NEWSWEEK:
HEALTH FOR LIFE
Never Say Die
Step aside, quacks. The search for longer life is a real science now.

By Anne Underwood

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