A new study from researchers at University of California San Diego School of Medicine says that too much time spent sitting and exercising too little can accelerate aging. The researchers found that the cells of elderly women, who sit over 10 hours a day and have low physical activity, were eight years older than those women who live less sedentary lifestyles.

In their study published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, these women who have less than 40 minutes of physical activity daily and who remain sedentary for over 10 hours daily have shorter telomeres. Telomeres protect chromosomes and they can be found at the end of DNA strands.

Telomeres become shorter with age. However, obesity, smoking may accelerate this process. Experts say that shortened telomeres are related to diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and other cancers. “Our study found cells age faster with a sedentary lifestyle. Chronological age doesn’t always match biological age,” explained study lead author Aladdin Shadyab, of the Department of Family Medicine and Public Health at UC San Diego School of Medicine.

The study involved almost 1,500 women, aged from 64 to 95. These participants were part of the larger Women’s Health Initiative (WHI), which is a national study that aims to understand the diseases among postmenopausal women. The researchers had the participants answer questionnaires. To track their movements, the women also had to wear an accelerometer on their right hip for seven days.

“We found that women who sat longer did not have shorter telomere length if they exercised for at least 30 minutes a day, the national recommended guideline,” said the lead author. “Discussions about the benefits of exercise should start when we are young, and physical activity should continue to be part of our daily lives as we get older, even at 80 years old.”

The researchers suggest that exercise should be a part of the older population. According to them, future studies would need to investigate how exercise relates to telomere length among young people as well as in men.