New research tells us we may be altering more than just the number on the scale when we exercise. In fact, according to a paper published earlier this year by scientists at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, our genetic structure also undergoes significant chemical modifications in the form of methylation.
Methylation occurs when a methyl group is added or removed from a base in our DNA without affecting the original DNA sequence. It can dramatically alter the way our bodies function, as observed during a study of participants in a cycling program lasting 45 minutes, four days a week, for three months. The study also observed strong associations between epigenetic methylation in skeletal muscle biopsies and the change in activity of 4,000 genes in total.
Genetic expression increased in areas associated with skeletal muscle adaptation (i.e. how well we react to the training demands given to our bodies) and carbohydrate metabolism. It decreased in regions associated with inflammation.
We all know that when we exercise, we are doing something positive for ourselves. However, up until now, exactly how the positive effects of training have been induced in the body have been somewhat of a mystery.
From this study we can conclude that genetic modification to our muscles is an important and integral adaptation to endurance training. The knowledge gained here is important not only to understand, prevent and treat chronic diseases such as heart disease, diabetes and obesity – but also to determine how to maintain a healthy musculoskeletal system as we age.
New questions that need to be answered are now accumulating. For instance, how do these changes affect men and women differently? Do these genetic changes linger if someone quits exercising? How exactly do different modes of exercise affect methylation patterns and gene expression?
Perhaps the most intriguing question of all is a slightly modified version of what was originally posed by the popular make-up brand, Maybelline… Maybe they’re born with it, or maybe it’s…methylation?