Recently I came across an interesting piece of information. It was about how exercising can alter our genes. Sounds incredible doesn’t it?
Well, there have been some studies that have shown that exercise does in fact change whether or not our genes are turned on or off. When the gene is turned off, or silenced, which ultimately affects our metabolism and affects disease risk factors. The structure of the gene cannot be altered, but it is now known that the environment can affect the genes by turning them on or off.
Incredible stuff is being studied out there today!!
So what environmental factors can do this? Well, it’s diet, stress and exercise.
The technical details I’ve borrowed, and you can read about them below 🙂
Utimately, make sure you get some exercise every day – this can start out as simple as walking up the stairs to the next level at work, when you’re doing this comfortably, make it two levels!! It doesn’t have to be ‘go out and run a marathon’!! Just get started. Stop putting off until tomorrow what can be easily done in your lunch hour today. Twenty minutes a day is enough to begin with – you’ll be surprised at how much more energy you have by the end of the second week.
Methylation is one of the ways that genes are turned off or on. During methylation, a methyl group (structure made of carbon and hydrogen atoms) is added to the gene. Think of it as adding a cherry to the top of a sundae. The cherry (methyl group) will either block or assist the message from being received by the sundae (gene). Turning genes off and on affects all processes in the body, ultimately making an impact on behavior, mental processes, disease states, and physical appearance.
Exercise is one environmental factor that drives the process of methylation. In a recent study by researchers at Lund University Diabetes Center in Sweden, scientists set out to see exactly what exercise does to our genes. As part of their study, the scientists mapped expression of genes in fat cells before and after exercise in 23 men who worked out for one hour two times weekly for six months (1). Not only did exercising cause weight loss and improve cholesterol levels and blood pressure, but it also changed the methylation pattern at nearly 18,000 sites on 7,663 genes. Many of the modified genes were those involved in fat storage and obesity and diabetes risk.
Gene methylation isn’t limited to fat cells; exercise also affects methylation in muscle cells. In a study published in the journal Cell Metabolism last year, researchers collected muscle biopsies from 14 men and women both before and after exercise to determine the effect on gene methylation (2). Not only were major changes in the pattern of methylation seen after just one exercise session, but the researchers also found that more intense exercise caused even greater changes. Similar to what was seen in the fat cell study, several of the genes methylated in muscle cells following exercise are known to affect metabolism and the risk for obesity and diabetes.
It is often said that our genes and environment determine how we age and our risk for disease, suggesting that one factor (genes) is unchangeable, while the other (environment) we have control over. These new studies show how the environmental component of exercise is capable of influencing genes themselves, giving us an extra element of control. Exercise is an extremely powerful tool conferring loads of health benefits, likely driven largely by gene methylation.
1. Rönn T, et al. A six months exercise intervention influences the genome-wide DNA methylation pattern in human adipose tissue. PLoS Genet. 2013 Jun;9(6):e1003572. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1003572. Epub 2013 Jun 27.
2. Barrès R, et al. Acute exercise remodels promoter methylation in human skeletal muscle. Cell Metab. 2012 Mar 7;15(3):405-11. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2012.01.001.