Hit the Gym
“Whenever I get the urge to exercise, I just lay down till it goes away.” This quip is variously attributed to humorist Mark Twain or University of Chicago president Robert Hutchins, but whoever said it first spoke for the many people who simply can’t find the will (or time) to exercise properly.
Much research exists showing the health benefits of regular physical activity, including reducing the risk of disorders everyone would dearly like to avoid like diabetes, cancer, and depression. Complicating such analyses is the fact that people who exercise are largely self-selected so it’s hard to prove causality rather than just association with untoward outcomes. Studies at the molecular level on exercisers do show myriad changes in metabolism and gene expression, which of course influence the physiology and behavior of the person. A summary of such research can be found in a recent paper from Europe, in which additional insight about the role of non-genetic factors is explored for the first time.
The authors persuaded 14 exercise-averse males and females in their mid-twenties to take a hard spin on an exercise bike. A single session produced dramatic changes in DNA methylation, a chemical modification of the genome that is a powerful regulator of gene expression. As a consequence, several genes already implicated in exercise responses were perturbed by this epigenetic methylation burst.
Alas, the effects are transient. They are also mimicked by a slug of caffeine administered to cultured muscle cells. Thus, although this research provides additional nuance about the complex levels of biochemical controls induced by exercise, neither the underlying molecular mechanisms nor the health benefits can be inferred from the results. Guess we’ll have to keep on slogging at the gym.
Tom Tritton is President and CEO of CHF.