Independent and combined effects of dietary weight loss and exercise on leukocyte telomere length in postmenopausal women


  • Disclosure: The authors have no competing interests.

  • Funding agencies: This work was supported by the National Cancer Institute at the National Institutes of Health (grant number: R01 CA102504, U54-CA116847, 5KL2RR025015-03 to K.F.S, R25 CA94880 and 2R25CA057699-16 to A.K.); and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (Fellowship to K.L.C & C.M). None of the funding agencies were involved in the trial design or conduct. While working on the trial, Dr. Alfano was employed at The Ohio State University, and located to NCI following completion of her effort on the NEW trial.

    Author contributions: Drs Mason and McTiernan had full access to the data and took responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the analysis. Study concept and design: Mason, Risques, Rabinovitch, Duggan, Wang, Alfano, Blackburn, McTiernan; Acquisition of data: Risques, Kong, Campbell, Blackburn, McTiernan; Analysis and interpretation of data: Mason, Xiao, Risques, McTiernan; Drafting of the manuscript: Mason; Risques; Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: Duggan, Risques, Rabinovitch Imayama, Kong, Campbell, Wang, Alfano, Blackburn, McTiernan; Statistical analysis: Xiao, Mason; Obtained funding: McTiernan; Administrative, technical, or material support: Xiao; Study supervision: McTiernan.

Correspondence: Anne McTiernan (



Investigate the effects of 12 months of dietary weight loss and/or aerobic exercise on leukocyte telomere length in postmenopausal women.

Design and Methods

Four hundred and thirty nine overweight or obese women (50-75 years) were randomized to: (i) dietary weight loss (N = 118); (ii) aerobic exercise (N = 117), (iii) diet + exercise (N = 117), or (iv) control (N = 87). The diet intervention was a group-based program with a 10% weight loss goal. The exercise intervention was 45 min day−1, 5 days week−1 of moderate-to-vigorous aerobic activity. Fasting blood samples were taken at baseline and 12 months. DNA was extracted from isolated leukocytes and telomere length was measured by quantitative-polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). Mean changes were compared between groups (intent-to-treat) using generalized estimating equations.


Baseline telomere length was inversely associated with age (r = −0.12 P < 0.01) and positively associated with maximal oxygen uptake (r = 0.11, P = 0.03), but not with BMI or %body fat. Change in telomere length was inversely correlated with baseline telomere length (r = −0.47, P < 0.0001). No significant difference in leukocyte telomere length was detected in any intervention group compared to controls, nor was the magnitude of weight loss associated with telomere length at 12 months.


Twelve months of dietary weight loss and exercise did not change telomere length in postmenopausal women.