Exercise Changes Our DNA - For the Better!

Everyone knows that exercise is good for us. It lowers the risk of disease, helps maintain a healthy body weight, and combats some symptoms of depression. Hooray! But aside from knowing why exercise is good for you, it’s also knowing how it’s good for you that scientists are studying.

That’s where a new study comes in. It turns out that exercise actually changes the shape of our genes in addition to altering how our genes work. Researchers always knew that exercise led to certain genes becoming more active and others less active, but they didn’t understand why. That’s where the process called epigenetics comes in.

Epigenetics is the scientific term for a process in which genes are altered, but the DNA stays the same.  The main way epigenetic changes take place is through a process called methylation, where bunches of atoms called methyl groups attach themselves to the outside of a gene and serve as a conduit for biochemical processes in the body. Methylation patterns can be altered according to certain environmental changes such as certain diets or even exposure to pollutants.

While in the past, there have been a few small studies that showed just one exercise session can cause positive changes in the methylation patterns. But until now, no studies have been done to explore any long-term effects of exercise on methylation patterns.

For three months, researchers had study participants bicycle with only one leg. As expected, that leg was much stronger than the other leg. However, after studying the DNA of the muscle cells of the exercised leg, the researchers found something very interesting. It turns out that over 5,000 sites on the muscle cell genomes had new methylation patterns on the leg that was exercised, but there were no changes on the unexercised leg. The genes that had new methylation patterns all have to do with energy metabolism, insulin response, and muscle inflammation.

And it would seem that this increase in methylation patterns is for the better in terms of overall health and fitness. That’s awesome news we can all use, and it’s yet another reason why we should all be striving to make exercise a part of our lives.