6 Weeks of Exercise Leads to Genome Changes Linked to Disease

Exercise changes your DNA and your DNA thanks you.

It’s like social media always says, regular physical exercise is awesome and it’s your fault you don’t look like an Instagram filter on steroids. However, real scientist also know that working out decreases the risk of virtually all chronic illnesses, although they are not quite sure how that happens or the mechanism behind it.

University of Copenhagen scientists, however, have discovered it may in part result from changes to the structure of our DNA. These changes are referred as epigenetic.

Their study is called, Epigenetic Rewiring of Skeletal Muscle Enhancers After Exercise Training Supports a Role in Whole-Body Function and Human Health, and it’s worth a read.

Epigenetic Changes from Physical Activity

DNA is the molecular instruction manual found in all our cells. Some sections of our DNA are genes, which are instructions for building proteins – the body’s building blocks – while other sections are called enhancers that regulate which genes are switched on or off, when, and in which tissue.

Our Danish scientist friends found, for the first time, that exercise rewires the enhancers in regions of our DNA that are known to be associated with the risk to develop disease.

“Our findings provide a mechanism for the known beneficial effects of exercise. By connecting each enhancer with a gene, we further provide a list of direct targets that could mediate this effect,” says Professor Romain Barrès from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research, the senior author of the research, which was published in Molecular Metabolism.

Exercise Improves the Brain

The scientists had a hypothesis: endurance training changes the activity of gene enhancers in skeletal muscle by remodelling the processes. They discovered that after completing an endurance training program, their training subjects’ enhancers in the skeletal muscle had been altered.

They were able to connect the many enhancers that exhibited this alteration to genetic databases to discover that many of them have been identified as hotspots of genetic variation between individuals – hotspots that have been associated with human disease.

In particular, they found that exercise remodels enhancer activity in skeletal muscle that are linked to cognitive abilities, which opens for the identification of exercise training-induced secreted muscle factors targeting the brain.