Study Gives A Leg Up on The Benefits of Exercise

December 31, 2014

It’s no news that exercise is good for us.    Aside from the general health benefits, exercise has been shown to reduce our risk of Alzheimer’s.   In one study, scientists concluded that Alzheimer’s could have been prevented in one out of seven cases only if participants had maintained regular exercise.

While we understand the benefit, scientists are starting to understand how exercise produces such helpful effects.  A study conducted in Sweden shows that exercise can change the shape and function of our genes.  The key activity is a process called methylation.  In methylation, groups of atoms, bind themselves to the exterior of a gene, much like mollusks.  These methyl clumps affect how the gene reacts to biochemical signals in the body.

Exercise affects how these methyl groups form.  Other lifestyle factors like diet and pollutants in our environment also have an impact.  The biggest challenge scientist have had in understanding these factors is that it’s hard to isolate the benefits of exercise alone.  Did methyl patterns change due to exercise, or perhaps chemicals in the environment?

In the Swedish study, researchers asked athletes to exercise on a stationary bike but use only one leg.  The other leg remained unexercised.  After three months muscle biopsies revealed that the exercised legs had significantly different methyl groups than the unexercised legs.  And most of the methylation changes were on areas of the genome known to play a role in energy metabolism, insulin response and inflammation.

In other words, exercise does not just make us stronger or more fit, it actually changes the shape and functioning of our genes.

Filed in: News

What's On Your Mind?

Trackback URL | RSS Feed for This Entry