We are all familiar with the benefits of exercise. Beyond burning calories and keeping your midsection in check, it also lowers your risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes, and enhances your mood. What if, however, you could add one extra bow into the exercise-benefiting cap? What if you could change your DNA?
You read correctly.
The human body is astonishingly complex and dynamic and scientists have known that certain genes become active or quieter as a result of exercise, but they hadn’t understood how those genes knew how to respond to exercise…until now.
A recent study conducted by scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm recruited 23 young and healthy men and women, running them through a series of physical performance and medical tests, including a muscle biopsy.
These adults were required to exercise half of their lower bodies for three months. The volunteers pedaled one-legged at a moderate pace for 45 minutes, four times per week. Then the scientists repeated the muscle biopsies and other tests with each volunteer. Not surprisingly, the volunteers’ exercised leg was more powerful now than the other, showing that the exercise had resulted in physical improvements (duh).
But, what is interesting, is that there were also changes within the exercised muscle cells’ DNA! Using technology that analyses 480,000 positions throughout the genome, they could see that new methylation patterns had taken place. What is methylation? I’m glad you asked!
In a process known as DNA methylation, clusters of atoms, called methyl groups, attach to the outside of a gene like microscopic mollusks and make the gene more or less able to receive and respond to biochemical signals from the body. In the exercised portions of the bodies, many of the methylation changes were on portions of the genome known as enhancers that can amplify the expression of proteins by genes. Additionally, gene expression was significantly increased or changed in thousands of the muscle-cell genes!
What action do the observed genes perform? Most of the genes in question are known to play a role in energy metabolism, insulin response and inflammation within muscles. In other words, they affect how healthy and fit our muscles — and bodies — become.
The study goes even further to show that the more intense the exercise performed, the greater the shift in DNA, even in a workout as short as 30 minutes. In fact, just one session of moderately high intensity training has the same effect on the metabolism as the caffeine in 50 cups of coffee!
Now there’s a reason to get your body moving – and your DNA changing!