How Exercise Affects You on a Cellular Level – FOXOLIFE Blog

How Exercise Affects You on a Cellular Level

We all know exercise is good for your overall health. Whether you are trying to cut pounds, gain muscles, or maintain your weight—exercise benefits everyone. Many benefits of exercise can be seen or felt over time, such as weight loss or overall strength. But did you know that exercise is also a primary key to longevity?

When you exercise, your cells go through a rejuvenation process. Exercising helps repair damaged cells and tissue, creates energy, and detoxes your body. But what exactly is it repairing and why is it considered a key to longevity? Let’s take a deeper look at how exercise affects your body on a cellular level.

Telomeres and Aging

Telomeres and aging go hand-in-hand. Telomeres are protective structures that stabilize our chromosomes. Consisting of repetitive DNA sequences, telomeres protect the ends of our chromosomes by forming a cap—much like a plastic tip on shoelaces—that keeps the chromosomes from decaying or sticking to other chromosomes. This protection ensures that our chromosomes replicate properly during cell division.

Over time, each act of cell division shortens the telomere and shrinks the protective cap. Due to this process, telomere length can also provide an estimate of lifespan as more cell divisions occur the longer you live.1 

There are ways to inhibit the shortening of telomeres like diet, exercise, and meditation. You can also reverse some of this process through exercise. Different studies have shown that telomeres are longer in people who exercise at a moderate level. In fact, a study of older adults who previously had a sedentary lifestyle saw an increased length in telomeres the more they exercised.2

It has been hypothesized that exercise can positively impact the length of telomeres and cell division, as a decrease in overall damage reduces the number of cell divisions necessary to replace lost cells. In addition, exercise could aid in telomerase activity—the enzyme responsible for maintenance of the length of telomeres—making it a key to longevity.

Cell division causes telomeres to shorten.
Cell division causes telomeres to shorten.

Mitochondria Function

Mitochondria is known as “the powerhouse of the cell.” Its primary function is to convert oxygen and nutrients into adenosine triphosphate (ATP)—or energy—to power the cell’s biochemical reactions.

Mitochondria not only supplies the cells with energy but can also help the immune system detect pathogens and defects in the cells. If the body detects DNA damage that could lead to illness or cancer, mitochondria initiates a process called apoptosis which leads to the death of an unhealthy cell and elimination from the body.

The more you exercise, the more mitochondria your body makes. This is because when you exercise, you are supplying extra oxygen to the body and oxygen is a vital part of making mitochondria. It is hard to detect the degree to which exercise will increase mitochondria production, as a test has not yet been developed, but many studies have found that exercise is a proven method to ignite mitochondria production, a key to longevity and overall vitality.


Macrophages are a type of white blood cell that surrounds and kills microorganisms, removes dead cells, and stimulates the action of other immune system cells. They play a role in muscle repair and cell regeneration. Without getting too scientific, exercise can greatly affect your body’s immune system by promoting healthy cell function and macrophage response. This will help protect you from illnesses, heal your muscles and promote accelerated healing if you were injured. The great news? Any physical activity aids in boosting your immune system—yet another reason to make sure you are moving your body for at least 30 minutes a day at different intensities.

Exercises that are Key to Longevity

Studies have shown that HIIT, Tabata, cellular burst workouts, and endurance training exercises have been the most effective at stimulating cell rejuvenation, boosting mitochondria, removing toxins, improving cognitive function, reducing inflammation, and enhancing sleep. These workouts have been proven to put positive stress on the body, activate your longevity genes, repair your body, and rid your system of dead cells.

You can sign up to download the FOXO LIFE 5-step guide to optimize your cellular health and improve your athletic performance with easy-to-adopt daily routines that include a cellular burst workout regimen, which is a key to longevity. Sign up to download our FREE guide today.

1. Kim et al, Habitual physical exercise has beneficial effects on telomere length in postmenopausal women. Menopause 2012, 19:1109; Du et al, Physical activity, sedentary behavior, and leukocyte telomere length in women. Am. J. Epidemiol 2012, 175:414.
2. Sjogren et al, Br J Sports Med 2014 48:1407.