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Start exercising! It can even change your genes!

By Sravanth Verma     Dec 25, 2014 in Health
Exercise certainly makes us healthier, but a new study gives us a clue as to exactly how this process makes us healthier and in fact, changes our genes.
The study was published in Epigenetics, and reports that exercising could change the shape of our genes and how they function. This it turns out, is a key element to better health.
Scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm recruited 23 young, healthy men and women, and put them through a series of physical performance and medical tests, including a muscle biopsy. The participants were then given an exercise regime for half of their lower bodies for three months.
Methylation patterns are easily affected by lifestyle changes, which makes it hard to pinpoint just what pattern is caused by exercise alone. Methylation patterns change based on the food we eat and exposure to pollutants for instance. To eliminate this, the study asked the volunteers to bicycle with only one leg, leaving the other unexercised. Each person thus became a control group by themselves.
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. The exercised leg was more powerful than the other after three months of exercise, but the interesting change was in the muscle cells’ DNA.
Scientists already know that some genes activate or go passive when we exercise, releasing or withdrawing proteins that can shape the body's physiology. But so far, they have been clueless about how this process happens. This is where epigenetics comes in. Epigenetics is the process through which the functioning of genes change withut affecting our DNA. This happens through a process called methylation, where clusters of atoms attach themselves to the outside of a gene and change the way it receives and responds to biochemical signals.
Genomic analysis showed that over 5000 sites on the genome of muscle cells from the exercised leg now featured new methylation patterns. Many of the changes were on places in the genome that amplify the expression of proteins in genes.
Most of these genes play a role in energy metabolism, insulin response and inflammation within muscles. In other words, they affect how healthy and fit our muscles — and bodies — become.
The message of this study is unambiguous. “Through endurance training — a lifestyle change that is easily available for most people and doesn’t cost much money,” Malene Lindholm, a graduate student at the Karolinska Institute, who led the study said, “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.”
More about Exercise, Dna, Epigenetics