Everyone knows that exercise can make us fitter, healthier, and help reduce our risk for illnesses and conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. But exactly how does a run or bike ride make us healthier? It is a question that isn’t easily answered and leaves many baffled. 

However, there has been research in recent years that state that the answer may partly lie in our DNA. Studies have found that exercise can change the shape and functioning of our genes, an essential step on the way to improved health and fitness. However, the human genome is incredibly complex and sophisticated — with genes constantly turning on or off — depending on what biochemical signals they receive from the body. When our genes are triggered, they express proteins that prompt physiological responses elsewhere in the body. While experts know that certain genes become active or dormant as a result of exercise, what they didn’t quite understand is how genes those genes on how to respond to exercise. Until epigenetics, that is. 

What Is Epigenetics

While it may seem like it, you actually don’t need a doctorate in biology to learn about and understand epigenetics. While it is a sophisticated science, we’ll try to explain it the best we can. Epigenetic changes occur on the outside of the gene, mainly through a process called methylation. During this process, a cluster of atoms (the methyl groups) attach to the outside of the gene, making it more or less able to receive and respond to the biochemical signals sent from the body.

Research has already proven that methylation patterns change in response to lifestyle. For example, following a certain diet or being exposed to pollutants can change said patterns on some of our DNA genes and affect what proteins those genes express. Depending on the genes involved in the process, it can potentially affect our health and risk for health diseases.

How Are Epigenetics and Exercise Connected?

Connecting exercise and methylation is not as simple. There have been various smaller studies that found that a single session of physical activity can cause immediate changes in the methylation patterns of certain genes in muscle cells. However, it remains unclear whether long-term, regular exercise affects methylation or not. 

One of the biggest obstacles to precisely studying epigenetic changes has been that so many aspects of our lives have an effect on our methylation patterns, making it a challenge to isolate the effects of exercise from certain diets and behaviors. In a study conducted by the Karolinska Institute, 23 young and healthy men and women were brought in for a series of physical performance and medical tests, including a muscle biopsy, followed by three months of exercising half of their lower bodies. To overturn the obstacle that had once made it difficult to isolate the effects of exercise from a certain diet or other behaviors, researchers made the volunteers ride a bicycle with only one leg, leaving the other complete unexercised. This enabled each volunteer to become their own control group. While both legs would undergo the methylation patterns that have been influenced throughout their entire life, only the pedaling leg would experience the changes related to exercise.

What The Study Revealed

Not surprisingly, pedaling with one leg at a moderate pace for 45 minutes, four times per week for three months left one leg more powerful than the other, showing that the exercise had resulted in physical improvements. However, the changes that happened within the DNA of the patterns. Some volunteers showed more methyl groups; some showed fewer. But these volunteers’ muscle cells were even more intriguing. Genomic analysis revealed that more than 5,000 sites on the genome of muscle cells from the exercised leg now featured new methylation significant changes were not found in the unexercised leg. Interestingly enough, the changes were on portions of the genome known as enhancers that can amplify the expression of proteins expressed by genes. The research found that gene expression was significantly increased or changed in thousands of the muscle-cell genes that the researchers studied. Most of the genes being questioned were known to play an important role in energy metabolism, insulin response and inflammation within muscles. In simpler words, they affect how healthy and fit our muscles — and our bodies — become. Keep in mind, there were no changes in the unexercised leg. 

What Does This Mean For Exercise and Genetic Changes?

While scientists and researchers now better the complicated, multifaceted processes that make exercise so beneficial for us, there are still many mysteries that remain. It is still unknown whether the genetic changes discovered in the study would stay if one were to quit exercising, as well as how different amounts or different types of exercise might affect methylation patterns and the expression of genes. What the study did conclude, however, is that through exercise, we can induce changes that affect how we use our genes and, through that, get healthier and more functional muscles that ultimately improve our quality of life.

Increase Your Health and Wellbeing at QuickHIT Fitness Labs

Epigenetics isn’t always the easiest topic to wrap your mind around. If you’re going to retain anything from this blog post, make sure it’s the fact that exercise can help you induce changes in your body that affect how you use your genes, ultimately making you healthier and giving you more functional muscles. 

At QuickHit Fitness, we are fascinated by epigenetics and try to use our revolutionary resistance workouts to improve your health and body functionality. We ultimately want to help improve our client’s quality of life, no matter what age or stage of life they are in, and we achieve that with our patent-pending equipment that adds resistance based on your resistance output throughout the entirety of each exercise, challenging your muscles at each point of the movement. 

If you are interested in learning more about QuickHIT Fitness Labs or how our high-intensity training can improve your epigenetics, contact us today!