Does your doctor tell you to exercise on a regular basis?
Most people would answer that question saying yes. With the holidays here and New Year resolutions to lose weight around the corner, exercising might be in the back of your mind. Why do physicians emphasize the importance of exercise and how does it change us?
The New York Times reports on why your physician is or at least should be emphasizing the significance of exercising. There are many advantages to exercising, some of which you may not even know about.
What are some of the advantages of exercising?
One of the most important benefits of exercising is that it keeps our heart healthy. Heart disease is one of the leading causes of death today. Exercising helps erode fat from clogging our arteries and helps stabilize our heart beat to reduce palpitations.
Another important benefit is its ability to prevent diabetes. Exercising helps keep one’s weight down. Being fit and in shape is an excellent way of preventing diabetes, especially if you do not have a family history of diabetes, because many people develop the disease just by being over weight.
Now experts say that another more hidden benefit of exercising is that it could lead to a healthier life by changing your gene structure. Scientists explain how one’s DNA plays a role into exercising.
“New research reports that the answer may lie, in part, in our DNA. Exercise, a new study finds, changes the shape and functioning our genes, an important stop on the way to improved health and fitness,” according to The Times.
There are particular genes that become active or quieter as a result of exercise. But before scientists did not understand how those genes know how to respond to exercise. At this point we come to epigenetics, a process by which the operation of genes is changed, but not the DNA itself. Epigenetic alterations occur on the outer part of the gene, mainly through a process called methylation. In methylation, clusters of atoms, called methyl groups, attach to the outside of a gene like microscopic mollusks and make the gene have the ability to receive and respond to biochemical signals from the body.
The times explains, “A few studies have found that a single bout of exercise leads to immediate changes in the methylation patterns of certain genes in muscle cells. But whether longer-term, regular physical training affects methylation, or how it does, has been unclear.”
For the latest study experts had participants exercise the lower part of their bodies for three months and then examined them to see if there were any changes. The participants actually only exercised one leg by bicycling so that scientists could isolate the exercising leg from the non-exercising one to see if there are any genetic differences.
What was the process of the study?
The Times explains, “In effect, each person became his or her own control group. Both legs would undergo methylation patterns influenced by his or her entire life; but 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.”
What were the results?
The exercised leg was of course more powerful than the other leg. However, more importantly and more interesting were the changes within the muscle cells’ DNA.
The researchers used genomic analysis to determine that more than 5,000 sites on the genome of muscle cells from the exercised leg now featured new methylation patterns. Some of them displayed more methyl groups; some fewer. But the changes were note worthy and not displayed in the unexercised leg.
The gene expression was noticeably increased or changed in thousands of the muscle-cell genes that the researchers studied in the exercised leg. These genes play a role in energy metabolism thus showing that exercising can truly help change one’s genetic make up and lead a healthier life.