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PLoS One. 2011;6(11):e26983. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0026983. Epub 2011 Nov 9.

Physical fitness and telomere length in patients with coronary heart disease: findings from the Heart and Soul Study.

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School of Medicine, University of California San Francisco, San Francisco, California, United States of America.



Short telomere length (TL) is an independent predictor of mortality in patients with coronary heart disease (CHD). However, the relationship between physical fitness and TL has not been explored in these patients.


In a cross sectional study of 944 outpatients with stable CHD, we performed exercise treadmill testing, assessed self-reported physical activity, and measured leukocyte TL using a quantitative PCR assay. We used generalized linear models to calculate mean TL (T/S ratio), and logistic regression models to compare the proportion of patients with short TL (defined as the lowest quartile), among participants with low, medium and high physical fitness, based on metabolic equivalent tasks achieved (METs).


229 participants had low physical fitness (<5 METS), 334 had moderate physical fitness (5-7 METS), and 381 had high physical fitness (>7 METS). Mean ± T/S ratio ranged from 0.86±0.21 (5349±3781 base pairs) in those with low physical fitness to 0.95±0.23 (5566±3829 base pairs) in those with high physical fitness (p<.001). This association remained strong after adjustment for numerous patient characteristics, including measures of cardiac disease severity and physical inactivity (p = 0.005). Compared with participants with high physical fitness, those with low physical fitness had 2-fold greater odds of having TL in the lowest quartile (OR 2.39, 95% CI 1.60-3.55; p<.001). This association was similar after multivariable adjustment (OR 1.94, 95%CI, 1.18-3.20; p = 0.009). Self-reported physical inactivity was associated with shorter TL in unadjusted analyses, but not after multivariable adjustment.


We found that worse objectively-assessed physical fitness is associated with shorter leukocyte telomere length in patients with CHD. The clinical implications of this association deserve further study.

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