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Brett Emison
Brett Emison
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New Year’s Resolution Time: How Exercise Changes Your DNA

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Exercise

 

Just in time for your New Year’s Resolution… a study published in in Epigenetics, confirmed that regular exercise actually changes our DNA, turning “on” certain genes.

It turns out, our genome is far more complex than intermittent combinations of A-T-G-C that I learned about in high school biology class.  Various genes are constantly turning “on” or “off” depending on certain biochemical signals the receive.  A gene could activate in one part of the body and stimulate a response elsewhere.

Epigenetics is a process in which the operation – but not the structure – of DNA is changed.  This process occurs on the outside of the gene in a process called methylation.

In methylation, clusters of atoms, called methyl groups, attach to the outside of a gene like microscopic mollusks and the gene more or less ale to receive and respond to biochemical signals from the body.

– Gretchen Reynolds at The New York Times

Methylation patterns can change in response to a variety of stimuli, including lifestyle, diet, or even pollutants.  And, for the first time, it’s been shown that these patterns are changed by exercise.  The Epigenetics study observed 23 healthy men and women.  It had each exercise only half of their lower bodies for three months by pedaling a bike using only one leg – in this way, each subject constituted his or her own control group.  Only the pedaling leg would show changes related to exercise.

The volunteers pedaled one-legged at a moderate pace for 45 minutes, four times per week for three months.  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.

But the changes within the muscle cells’ DNA were more intriguing.  Using sophisticated genomic analysis, the researchers determined that more than 5,000 sites on the genome of muscle cells from the exercised leg now featured new methylation patterns.  Some sowed more methyl groups; some fewer.  But the changes were significant and not found in the unexercised leg.

– The New York Times

Most the genes affected by these new patters help to regulate metabolism, insulin, and inflammation.

The takeaway: a small amount of moderate endurance training will go along way.  Your jeans – and your genes – will thank you.

Happy New Year!

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