Accumulation of stochastic DNA damage throughout organisms’ lifespan is thought to contribute to aging. Conversely, aging appears phenotypically reproducible and regulated through genetic pathways such as the insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) and growth hormone (GH) receptors, which are central mediators of the somatic growth axis. Here, we report that persistent DNA damage in primary cells elicits similar changes in global gene expression as those occurring in various organs of naturally aged animals. Importantly, we show that, as in aging animals, IGF-1 receptor and GH receptor expression is attenuated resulting in cellular IGF-1 resistance. This cell-autonomous attenuation is specifically induced by persistent lesions leading to RNA polymerase II stalling, in proliferating, quiescent and terminally differentiated cells, is exacerbated and prolonged in cells from progeroid mice and confers resistance to oxidative stress. Our findings suggest that DNA damage accumulation in transcribed genes in most if not all tissues, contributes to the aging-associated shift from growth to somatic maintenance that triggers stress resistance and is thought to promote longevity.