Give Now  »

Noon Edition

Exercise for Healthier Epigenome

woman stretches before exercising

Exercise can help us feel healthier and reduce our risk of developing diseases, such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and some forms of cancer. New studies indicate that its benefits go deep, all the way to the gene level.

Scientists have found that exercise changes DNA methylation, a part of gene expression.

 DNA Methylation

Our bodies produce biochemical signals that tell genes whether or not to produce proteins, a process called gene expression. Methyl groups, a derivative of methane containing carbon and hydrogen, sometimes attach themselves to genes, changing the way that genes receive the biochemical signals. This in turn changes the way the gene behaves.

Methylation is one of the processes that make up the epigenome, the chemicals that control how genes function. Along with the gene itself, patterns of methylation can be passed down from parent to child. And new studies are showing that you have some control over your epigenome.

How Exercise Helps

Scientists previously believed that DNA methylation changed either slowly over time with aging or on account of diseases. Now they are discovering that faster changes can occur on account of diet and exercise.

A study at Lund University in Sweden found that exercise altered the methylation patterns of genes in fat cells. Scientists associated with the study believe that the changes in DNA methylation may reduce for Type 2 diabetes and obesity.

A one-legged exercise study, in which participants trained only one leg, also found that DNA methylation changed after exercise. The scientists who performed this study chose to use only part of the body to make sure that variables such as diet or environmental factors would not affect their results.

A third study of muscle cells found that methylation patterns had changed after just one workout. The change was stronger in the participants who had exerted themselves more. This study may indicate that altered methylation may lead to the other benefits associated with exercise.

Read More:

  • Exercise Affects Epigenetics of Fat Storage (BioNews)
  • How Exercise Changes Fat and Muscle Cells (New York Times: Well)
  • Acute Exercise Remodels Promoter Methylation In Human Skeletal Muscle (PubMed)
  • An Integrative Analysis Reveals Coordinated Reprogramming Of The Epigenome And The Transcriptome In Human Skeletal Muscle After Training (Epigenetics)

Support For Indiana Public Media Comes From

About A Moment of Science