Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Exercise and how it affects your genes

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Why is exercise healthy?  Scientists have long known that exercise is good for you because it increases oxygenation to our muscle fibers, heart, lungs, brain and other major organs. Physical activity also sets off a series of chemical reactions releasing endorphins, seratonin, insulin and other hormones which are blood sugar regulators and mood enhancers.  A new study shows that exercise also has epigenetic effects, which change the shape and functioning of our genes, but not the DNA itself. These changes occur 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 more or less able to receive and respond to biochemical signals from the body.” Both inflammatory and immune system responses can be greatly affected by these signals. This ultimately can predict our risk for disease and our longevity.

To learn more- go to  genes.


In the past, when attempts were made to measure the effects of exercise on genes, factors such as diet, exercise, stress, sleep and other variations in the environment confounded the results. In a recent study performed at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, researchers isolated factors by having participants use only 1 leg to exercise.  Twenty-three participants exercised 4x/week on a stationary bicycle for 45 minutes, over 3 months, then they measured the changes between the exercised leg and the non-exercised leg through muscle biopsies. The results were significant; the exercised leg showed over 5000 methylation changes in the muscle, thus leading to the conclusion that exercise affects physiology not only through the known patterns of  increased circulation and hormone release, but also through turning the gene’s receptivity to certain chemicals on or off. The changes were found primarily in muscle development, metabolism and insulin sensitivity. Go to to learn more.

The lead researchers, Malene Lindholm and Francesco Marabita conclude, “Through endurance training, a lifestyle change that is easily available for most people and doesn’t cost much money, 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.”

Another take-away is that repetitive exercise (read consistency) holds the most value. If you have an exercise regimen in place- 4-5 days a week of moderate intensity- then you reap the most benefits. Gene methylation will occur and plays a role in energy metabolism, insulin response and inflammation within muscles.

As if you needed more reasons to exercise !!

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