Brief Exercise May Keep Immune Cells Healthy when You're Under Stress

There’s good news if you don’t want to spend an hour jogging on a treadmill. Even brief exercise helps to prevent stress-related damage to immune cells that can jeopardize health. According to a new study, as little as 42 minutes of vigorous exercise over a three day period helps to keep immune cells that fight disease healthy.

Telomeres and Aging

One marker for cell aging is telomere length. Telomeres are short regions of DNA that protect the tips of chromosomes, the cell’s genetic material, from damage. Short telomeres are not only a marker for aging, but they’re associated with a higher risk of chronic health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Scientists already know that stress can shorten telomere length. Obviously, having longer telomeres would be of benefit from a health standpoint.

Cell Aging and Brief Exercise

Researchers at the University of California at San Francisco looked at immune cell telomere length in 62 post-menopausal women who were under significant stress. They questioned these women about the amount of vigorous exercise they did and compared it to the telomere length of their immune cells.

The women who were stressed, but exercised vigorously for at least 42 minutes over three days, had normal telomere length, while the women who were sedentary had shorter ones. The conclusion? Even brief exercise periods protected the cells of these stressed women from shortening.

Brief Exercise Benefits Cell Aging?

Even as little as thirteen minutes of vigorous brief exercise a day may prevent telomere shortening due to stress. There’s one caveat though. The exercise should be vigorous – enough to break a sweat. A leisurely stroll down the block probably won’t impact telomere length, but running briskly up and down stairs or taking a short run would be. Unfortunately, in people who are stressed, exercise is often the first thing to go, but “stressed out” people may need it the most.

Brief Exercise and Short Telomeres: The Bottom Line?

If you’re under stress, even brief exercise may help to keep your immune cells healthy. Make some time to do it and do it vigorously – for your health.


Psych Central. “Brief Exercise Slows Aging”.