Football and team handball training postpone cellular aging in women

Marie Hagman, Bjørn Fristrup, Rémi Michelin, Peter Krustrup*, Muhammad Asghar

*Corresponding author for this work
6 Citations (Scopus)


Several hallmarks of aging have been identified and examined separately in previous exercise studies. For the first time, this study investigates the effect of lifelong regular exercise in humans on two of the central aging hallmarks combined. This cross-sectional study involved 129 healthy, non-smoking women, including young elite football players (YF, n = 29), young untrained controls (YC, n = 30), elderly team handball players (EH, n = 35) and elderly untrained controls (EC, n = 35). From a resting blood sample, mononuclear cells (MNCs) were isolated and sorted into monocytes and lymphocytes. Telomere length, mitochondrial (mtDNA) copy number and key regulators of mitochondrial biogenesis and function (PGC-1α and PGC-1β expression) were measured using quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). Overall, young women showed significantly longer telomeres and higher PGC-1α and PGC-1β expression, but lower mtDNA copy number compared to elderly subjects. A multivariate analysis showed that YF had 22–24% longer telomeres in lymphocytes and MNCs compared to YC. In addition, YF showed 19–20% higher mtDNA copy number in lymphocytes and MNCs compared to YC. The two young groups did not differ in PGC-1α and PGC-1β expression. EH showed 14% lower mtDNA copy number in lymphocytes compared to EC, but 3.4-fold higher lymphocyte PGC-1α expression compared to EC. In MNCs, EH also showed 1.4–1.6-fold higher PGC-1α and PGC-1β expression. The two elderly groups did not differ in telomere length. Elite football training and lifelong team handball training are associated with anti-aging mechanisms in leukocytes in women, including maintenance of telomere length and superior mitochondrial characteristics.

Original languageEnglish
Article number11733
JournalScientific Reports
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)11733
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2021


  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Biomarkers
  • Body Composition
  • Cellular Senescence/genetics
  • DNA, Mitochondrial
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Football
  • Gene Dosage
  • Genes, Mitochondrial
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Mitochondria/genetics
  • Sex Factors
  • Sports
  • Young Adult


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