How Exercise Can Change Your DNA
You can thank your DNA for lots of things: the color of your eyes, your cute dimples in the cheeks, your beautiful curly hair . . . But could you ever guess this: Exercise can change your DNA with a few minutes of exercise.
It’s well known that working out can lower risk of diabetes, heart disease, and other chronic illnesses. But you must be asking yourself how a run or a bike ride can change your DNA? Well, it seems like the benefits of working out go far beyond what we have known previously, extending all the way to possible changes in the behavior of the genetics.
The human genome is perfectly complex and dynamic, and depending on what biochemical signals the genes receive from the body, they constantly turn on or off. When they’re turned on, they express proteins involved in releasing energy that prompt physiological responses elsewhere in the body.
The hypothesis begin with the process called DNA methylation according to which it can possibly influence how the body "switches on" genes in our DNA.
The experiment a group of researchers did in order to accept (or reject) this hypothesis, is they took a statistical sample of few healthy young people (average age of 25 years) who did not regularly exercise to complete a single, intense exercise on a stationary bike. They were asked to exercise until they were too tired to want to continue.
The researchers tested DNA methylation in samples of thigh muscle taken before and after the exercise. What they found is that just 20 minutes after the cycling session, the amount of DNA with methylation had decreased, which led to an increase in the activity of those genes through which the cells generate energy. The conclusion was that this may be the process by which muscle adapts to exercise.
A sub-group of eight men completed two additional sessions, one low-intensity session at 40% of their maximum aerobic capacity, and another high-intensity session at 80% capacity. The men fasted the night before the sessions. On the day of the experiments, a small sample of thigh muscle was taken and the men then ate a high-carbohydrate breakfast. Four hours after breakfast, they started the exercise session on a stationary bike. They continued cycling until they had expended a predetermined amount of energy (1,674 kJ, approximately 400 calories). A muscle sample was taken immediately after the session, and again three hours later.
The researchers analysed these muscle samples, and compared DNA methylation before and after exercise, and across different exercise-intensity levels. The researchers also looked at methylation levels 48 hours after a three-week exercise programme.
When analyzing the sub-group of participants who completed both high- and low-intensity sessions, the researchers found that high-intensity exercise led to a greater decrease in methylation than low-intensity exercise.
Even though this study shows that exercise leads to a temporary change in the DNA strand (called methylation), affecting the rate at which cells produce certain proteins, as a response to exercising, and it’s not a change in the DNA itself, the result is interesting because it reminds us of how regular exercise can help maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of developing a variety of diseases.
Links to the science
Barrès R, Yan J, Egan B et al. Acute exercise remodels promoter methylation in human skeletal muscle Cell Metabolism, March 7 2012, Volume 15, Issue 3, 405-411
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