PICTURE: Danish and Swedish researchers are studying the anti-aging effects of soccer and team handball training in women. view More

Photo credit: Jacob Almtoft

In search of healthy aging and a longer lifespan, Danish researchers from the University of Southern Denmark worked with Swedish researchers from the Karolinska Institutet to study the anti-aging effects of soccer and team handball training in women.

In a recent study published in Scientific Reports, the researchers examined the effects of lifelong, regular exercise on two of the key characteristics of aging combined and showed that soccer and team handball have a positive impact on telomere length and mitochondrial function in women.

“Our legacy is made up of DNA wrapped in chromosomes. When cells divide, the inheritance is copied, but with each cell division, the ends of the DNA threads get shorter. The so-called telomeres are shortened, which is what causes us to age It is noteworthy that participating in team sports such as soccer and handball helps women maintain longer telomeres and healthy mitochondria. It can potentially extend their health and ultimately life as shorter telomeres and mitochondrials Dysfunction with a range of geriatric diseases and mortality, “says lead researcher Muhammad Asghar, joint lead author of the study, from the medical department in Solna at Karolinska Institutet.

Younger biological age in the cells as assessed by telomere length

“We recently showed that soccer players aged 65-80 are in excellent physical condition compared to untrained peers, as evidenced by significantly higher aerobic fitness, muscle mass and bone strength and a younger biological age.” in the cells based on telomere length, “says Professor Peter Krustrup, joint lead author of the study from the Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics at the University of Southern Denmark, and adds:

“Interestingly, the present study shows the same pattern, including positive effects on mitochondrial health, in 60-80 year old female team handball players, supporting evidence of anti-aging potential in team sports.”

“In addition to the positive results in older team handball players, we have observed that young elite soccer players have 23% longer telomeres in certain blood cells compared to untrained women of the same age,” says Dr. Marie Hagman, first author of the study. from the Institute of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics at the University of Southern Denmark.

“These results are striking because differences in telomere length of this magnitude are usually not found in young participants. It should be noted, however, that this is a cross-sectional study and that our results will need to be confirmed by future randomized controlled trials. ”“ Explains Hagmann.

129 healthy non-smokers took part in the study, including young elite soccer players (YF, n = 29, 18-30 years), young untrained control persons (YC, n = 30, 18-30 years), older handball players (EH, n = 35, 60-80 years) and older, untrained controls (EC, n = 35, 60-80 years). The study was the first to examine the effects of lifelong, regular exercise in humans on two of the key aging characteristics together.

Elite soccer and lifelong team handball training are associated with positive anti-aging ingredients

The results of the study showed that elite soccer and lifelong team handball training are associated with beneficial cellular anti-aging effects in women. In particular, young elite soccer players showed a higher telomere length and a higher mtDNA copy number compared to young untrained controls, while older handball players had healthy mitochondria compared to older untrained controls. These cellular adaptations were also positively correlated with VO2max and the amount of weekly exercise, emphasizing the importance for these women, regardless of age, of maintaining adequate levels of fitness and activity.


The research was led by Peter Krustrup, Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, University of Southern Denmark, and Muhammad Asghar, Department of Medicine, Solna, Karolinska Institutet. The work was carried out with support from the Department of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, SDU Sport and Health Sciences Cluster, University of Southern Denmark, Denmark, and the Novo Nordisk Foundation grant to Team Denmark to Peter Krustrup and grants to Muhammad Asghar from the Swedish Research Council and of the Ragnar Söderberg Foundation.


Marie Hagman, Bjørn Fristrup, Rémi Michelin, Peter Krustrup, Muhammad Asghar. Football and team handball training delay cell aging in women. Scientific reports – nature.


Marie Hagman, Christian Werner, Katharina Kamp, Bjørn Fristrup, Therese Hornstrup, Tim Meyer, Michael Böhm, Ulrich Laufs, Peter Krustrup (2020). Reduced telomere shortening in male soccer players who have been trained for life compared to inactive controls of the same age. Advances in Cardiovascular Disease 63 (6): 738-749.


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