New Research Shows How Aerobic Exercise Changes Your DNA

biking photo

Can you actually change your DNA? And can something as simple as aerobic exercise cause such a change? Well, here’s how it works: Your DNA doesn’t actually change but our genes are constantly turning on and off, which can result from lifestyle changes.

Epigenetics happens when methyl groups attach to the outside of the gene, impacting how a gene responds to signals. Diet can impact this process, which is called methylation, and scientists think that exercise may also have an impact, according to The New York Times.

New research out of Stockholm shows how we can actually see these changes. In a new study, researchers recruited 23 young and healthy men and women. They took a variety of physical and medical tests at the beginning of the study including a muscle biopsy.

Researchers wanted to compare how a leg that was not exercised compared to a leg that was exercised, all the way down to the DNA. So to carry out the research, participants exercised one leg for 45 minutes, four times per week for four months. They accomplished this feat by biking with one leg. At the end of the study, researchers did another muscle biopsy.

According to The New York Times:

Using sophisticated genomic analysis, the researchers determined that more than 5,000 sites on the genome of muscle cells from the exercised leg now featured new methylation patterns. Some showed more methyl groups; some fewer. But the changes were significant and not found in the unexercised leg.

The genes highlighted in the study were responsible for metabolism, insulin response, and inflammation.

“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 to the New York Times, “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.”

This is one of the first studies that was able to isolate aerobic exercise as a precise cause. It’s a good reason to start your exercise regimen in the New Year. And from this study it’s obvious that it doesn’t take much to make big changes. Just 45 minutes, four days per week of exercise may be just what the doctor ordered.

Thinking about getting started? Choose an exercise that you love whether it be yoga, running, biking, walking, or gardening and get started. Maybe you want to add exercise into your life by walking or biking to run errands. Whatever you choose, don’t make it a chore. Make it a daily part of your life that you can actually stick to even when the weather gets cold or you get busy. We all need to move no matter how we choose to do it.

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Image: Zach Dischner