Exercise Changes Your DNA

Did You Know…that exercise can actually change your DNA?

We all know that exercise lowers risk of heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic illnesses.  Now, new research is finally revealing why.  The secret may be in our DNA.

Why is this exciting?  Because it means that the benefits of exercise go far beyond what we have understood previously, extending all the way to possible changes in the behavior of your genes.

The Low-Down on Epigenetics 

Epigenetics is the study of gene expression—how the function of genes can be changed without changing the actual genetic code, or DNA.  The human body contains around 24,000 genes.  These genes turn on and off like switches depending on the signals they receive.

Such signals come from your body based on external stimuli:

The food you eat
Toxins and pollutants
Emotions and stress
Sleep habits
Exercise
Other lifestyle influences

All of these factors and more affect whether certain genes turn on or off.  In other words, whether your genes express health or illness. Scientists know that exercise turns some genes on and squelches the expression of others. Until now, however, it’s been difficult to isolate the effects of exercise on gene expression from the effects of other lifestyle choices on gene expression.

Exercise’s Effect on Gene Expression 

A recent study conducted by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm helps clarify just how genes respond to exercise.  For the study:

23 young and healthy men and women underwent a series of physical performance and medical tests, including a muscle biopsy.

For 3 months, they cycled for 45 minutes a day, 4 times a week.

The study “variable” was that they could only cycle with one leg, leaving the other leg unexercised during the study period.

     At the end of 3 months, the scientists repeated the tests and muscle biopsy.  The exercised leg was, of course, noticeably stronger than the unexercised leg.  But scientists were most enthralled by changes that showed up in the muscle cells’ DNA.  They determined this effect using sophisticated genomic analysis:

More than 5,000 locations on the muscle cells’ genome showed new methylation patterns (during methylation, clusters of atoms bind to the outside of the gene, thereby positively affecting the signals a gene gives and receives).

Plus, gene expression was amplified in thousands of muscle cells that are responsible for energy metabolism, modulating the insulin response, and regulating inflammation in the muscles.

What Does This Mean For Our Genes?

Malene Lindholm, a graduate student at the Karolinska Institute, who led the study, explains the results this way:  “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.”


The very same principle of epigenetics discussed in this study affects literally every aspect of your health and longevity.  To discover how you can apply this knowledge right now to switch off disease and aging and switch on the genes that contribute to vibrant health and long life, click here.

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