How age, parenthood, sport and alcohol affect telomere length

How age, parenthood, sport and alcohol affect telomere length


  • The most harmful alcohol for your telomeres is beer.
  • Only anaerobic exercises prolong telomeres in people between the ages of 20-50.
  • Older dads seem to give their offspring longer telomeres.

In the age of health awareness and advanced medicine, when everyone wants to be strong and fit, it is hard to find an individual approach with an endless array of diets, exercises and food supplements. With this research, we take a step towards the next generation of modern health care, giving people the chance to take responsibility for their health. It is now possible to develop personalized health tools for home use, academic research, clinical practitioners, and corporate wellness, based on lifestyle and individual biological characteristics.

Telomere Length

Telomere length is measured in kilobase pairs (kbp) of DNA sequence and correlates with factors, like the number of children or the number of siblings a person has, his or her physical activity level, alcohol consumption, and smoking, etc.

Citizen science is just as important for us, as the commercial part. When launching the company, we committed to sharing the knowledge obtained in the course of the research with other scientists around the world – certainly in an anonymous aggregate mode. We asked 500 of our customers to fill out a survey regarding various aspects of their lifestyle. Having analyzed more than 30 parameters describing their health and lifestyle, we made some interesting discoveries.

Telomere Length Can Be Influenced by Number of Children

Telomeres of males and females behave differently, and there can be a lot of explanations. The most striking difference appears to be in the newly-discovered correlation between the telomere lengths of men versus women’s, and the number of children they’ve had.

Men. Research shows that men with one child have a significantly lower kbp than childless men. In fact, men with no children have the longest telomeres at 2 kbp. Men with more than one child tend to have longer telomeres. However, the statistical significance of this appears to be too low for any declarations, as p=0.14*. Basically, the correlation with the number of a man’s children has not yet been proven.

* P-value, or probability value, is simple statistical measurement that shows the likelihood of a hypothesis being wrong. Here, the 14% don’t seem like much, but the minimal benchmark in science is 5% at most.

Relation between number of children and telomere length

Women. Meanwhile, with p=0.02, the correlation with the number of children a woman gave birth to with her telomere length may be considered proven. Women with one child, seem to have the longest average telomere length of 2 kbp. With every next child, a woman’s telomeres become shorter. It is understandable, since every delivery (and, understandably, the responsibility of bringing up another human being) causes a woman stress. Yet, as giving birth to the first child causes telomeres to become longer, it seems a little stress is good for overall health.

However, one thing is for sure: mothers of two children have shorter telomeres than those of one child, not to mention that mothers of 3+ children statistically have telomeres significantly shorter than those of one child, or women with no children at all.

relation between number of children and telomere length in woman

We also discovered a correlation between telomere length and the father’s age at the moment of conception older dads seem to give their offspring longer telomeres. However, there seems to be no such connection for the mothers. This theory is supported by a p-value of only 0.04. Moreover, recent article by Eisenberg et al. in PNAS states exactly the same outcome, thus, validating our research.

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older dads give longer telomeres to offsprings

As we can see here, the telomeres of men and women respond differently to having children. While for fathers the correlation is barely significant, giving birth to one or more children does have a serious impact on a woman’s telomere length. Thus, knowing her telomere length may potentially help a woman take care of her health and better prepare for the trials of motherhood.

Does Telomere Length Depend On Age?

Statistics show that telomere length drops as the person gets older. The p-value of this statement is just 0.002, which means that this statement has 99.8% significance.

Telomere / age dependence

The diagram below shows the same data broken down by sex. Men are marked in blue. Women are marked red.

Telomere vs age by sex

Research shows that telomere length decreases over time, but at some point, it seems that as people get older, telomere length starts to increase again. This is what we call the survivorship bias the logical error caused by concentrating on those who “survived” and overlooking those who didn’t. To put it very simply: elderly people with short telomeres are more prone to illnesses causing death. Since the death rate is higher among the elderly, our excerpt shows more people with relatively long telomeres, which in old age may serve as protection against illness. Thus, the percentage of people with longer telomeres grows.

This diagram shows a typical pattern of correlation between age and telomere length. Individual points are not shown due to our customer privacy policy.

Telomere age length typical

Survivorship bias was first applied for calculations during World War II. Researchers had been studying the damage done to aircraft that had returned from missions. They recommended armor to be added to the most damaged areas. Instead, statistician Abraham Wald conducted calculations to find a way to minimize bomber losses based on the survivorship bias – he realized that the study only considered “surviving” planes, while those that were shot down weren’t taken into account. Therefore, instead of reinforcing areas of the planes that were hit but still functioning, Wald suggested unscathed areas be reinforced since those wouldn’t be able to survive a hit.

Can I Improve Telomere Length by Exercising?

It is common knowledge that exercising can improve health at any age. Initially, our goal was to look into the correlation between the number of hours a week spent exercising and telomere length. To our surprise, we didn’t find any. It is indeed an interesting finding, as data on this type of research has already been confirmed by other scientists.

It is possible that the evidence we were looking for was not visible in a data selection too wide. Which is why we decided to re-test this dependency under a different angle. We divided respondents into two groups: of those who prefer aerobic exercises (cardio) and those who prefer anaerobic exercises  (weights, HIIT, etc.).

Our findings showed that aerobic exercises don’t have any effect on telomere length for any of the age groups. Partially, it corresponds with the notion that prolonged aerobic exercise can even decrease telomere length. However, let’s not forget survivorship bias, i.e. older runners have longer telomeres anyway.
Looking at anaerobic exercises for the age group of 20-50-year-olds, with a p-value of 0.05, we can say that anaerobic exercises have a positive effect on telomere length in this age span.

Also, we were able to calculate the most favorable duration of anaerobic exercise for people aged 60 and older, as the effect that exercising has on telomere length is statistically significant only for this age group. As it turns out, anaerobic exercises are better for people of this age, with the average duration of 3-6 hours a week. It is a good thing to keep in mind when planning the next trip to the gym. Remember, going overboard with sports won’t have any positive effect.

This part of research only confirms that different types of exercising have different effects on a human body. Based on telomere length and age, it is now possible to create a personal training schedule with aerobic or anaerobic exercises for better results.

To Drink or Not to Drink?

Clients stating that they do not drink alcohol at all seem to have the longest telomeres. This was proven with a high significance of a p-value of 0.04. Moreover, their telomeres are by far longer than those of alcohol consumers.

The number of days per week a person drinks alcohol seems to be statistically irrelevant. However, tests show that not only the number of drinks consumed at a time matters, but also the type of drink:

  • One small drink per day has no major effect on telomere length, the type of drink does not matter in this case either.
  • The more drinks a person consumes at a time, the more telomeres are affected. Having two or more beers at once has a significantly worse effect on telomere length compared to other types of liquor.  So, make your choice carefully, when going to a bar.

Type of alcohol influences telomere length

How Do I Use This Knowledge For My Well-Being?

Aging, childbirth, illnesses, stress, alcohol, physical loads and lack of sleep these are only a few factors that can cause telomeres to deteriorate. It is now in everyone’s power to easily and quickly strengthen their telomeres, be healthy, look younger and live longer.

We are already working on detailed recommendations that will help you do just that. Subscribe to be the first to receive Titanovo recommendations.

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