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Whoah: Exercise changes your DNA.

A new study finds that exercise reprograms your muscles and metabolism at the DNA level.

Press Release: Exercise changes your DNA

You might think that the DNA you inherited is one thing that you absolutely can't do anything about, but in one sense you'd be wrong. Researchers reporting in the March issue of Cell Metabolism, a Cell Press publication, have found that when healthy but inactive men and women exercise for a matter of minutes, it produces a rather immediate change to their DNA. Perhaps even more tantalizing, the study suggests that the caffeine in your morning coffee might also influence muscle in essentially the same way.

The underlying genetic code in human muscle isn't changed with exercise, but the DNA molecules within those muscles are chemically and structurally altered in very important ways. Those modifications to the DNA at precise locations appear to be early events in the genetic reprogramming of muscle for strength and, ultimately, in the structural and metabolic benefits of exercise.

"Our muscles are really plastic," says Juleen Zierath of Karolinska Institutet in Sweden. "We often say "You are what you eat." Well, muscle adapts to what you do. If you don't use it, you lose it, and this is one of the mechanisms that allows that to happen."

The DNA changes in question are known as epigenetic modifications and involve the gain or loss of chemical marks on DNA over and above the familiar sequence of As, Gs, Ts, and Cs. The new study shows that the DNA within skeletal muscle taken from people after a burst of exercise bears fewer chemical marks (specifically methyl groups) than it did before exercise. Those changes take place in stretches of DNA that are involved in turning "on" genes important for muscles' adaptation to exercise.

When the researchers made muscles contract in lab dishes, they saw a similar loss of DNA methyl groups. Exposure of isolated muscle to caffeine had the same effect.

Zierath explained that caffeine does mimic the muscle contraction that comes with exercise in other ways, too. She doesn't necessarily recommend anyone drink a cup of joe in place of exercise. It's nevertheless tempting to think that athletes who enjoy a coffee with their workout might just be on to something.

Broadly speaking, the findings offer more evidence that our genomes are much more dynamic than they are often given credit for. Epigenetic modifications that turn genes on and back off again can be incredibly flexible events. They allow the DNA in our cells to adjust as the environment shifts.

"Exercise is medicine," Zierath says, and it seems the means to alter our genomes for better health may be only a jog away. And for those who can't exercise, the new findings might point the way to medicines (caffeinated ones, perhaps?) with similar benefits.
Holy cow. So you can cause sub-cellular-level changes by just working out, improving your entire body's function. (Wish they hadn't distracted from the results with the mega-dose-caffeine thing.)

If ever you needed a reason to start exercising right now, here it is. X-Men, here I come!




( 14 comments — Leave a comment )
Mar. 9th, 2012 03:15 pm (UTC)
This is encouraging! Embrace your Mutant-hood.

But I still weep for my loss of coffee.
Mar. 9th, 2012 07:19 pm (UTC)
LOVE that article!

But this article says that caffeine is GOOD for you. Hm.
Mar. 9th, 2012 07:24 pm (UTC)
Yes, well, maybe for normal people. Experiments have shown otherwise for me. =b

Maybe someday...
(Deleted comment)
Mar. 10th, 2012 05:26 pm (UTC)
Isn't it? I love this guy.
Mar. 9th, 2012 06:25 pm (UTC)
Right now I'm having a harder time getting off my butt than I am at not over-eating. I keep eyeing that gym on the way to school. Maybe this'll help give me that bump...or maybe I'll just have another cup of coffee.
Mar. 9th, 2012 07:22 pm (UTC)
Every step in the right direction is still a step! What I found is that eating better and feeling better made it easier to exercise more, which then made me feel better, and so on.

I suggest doing exercise things that are fun for you, or that make you feel good. For me, having a bunch of equipment at home really helps, and it's just basic stuff: a punching bag and gloves, dumb-bells, pull-up bar, TRX straps, and a weight vest. I started with just a couple of these and added more as time went on. The punching is the most fun, so I do it more!
Mar. 9th, 2012 07:55 pm (UTC)
It's amazing how tiring a few 60 second rounds of shadow boxing are, especially after a conventional workout. I can't really grasp how grueling and unpleasant doing it for three times as long, while getting punched at in return, must be.
Mar. 9th, 2012 07:59 pm (UTC)
I've been going to martial-arts tournaments since high school, and yet I'm still always a little surprised at my body when, after just a few minutes of intense sparring, it just says, "NO." I mean, really, just three minutes? Even after I've been training hard with a bag, punching and kicking full-force for many minutes on end?

It's different, somehow, when you stand across from a real opponent who's not only blocking your blows but also returning them, sucking up 100% of your resources.
Mar. 9th, 2012 08:06 pm (UTC)
I'm thinking that the competitive juices (active ingredient: adrenalin) are flowing, that probably helps somewhat, but... you're a tougher hombre than me.

I'll hold the engine block, you fight off the thugs.
Mar. 9th, 2012 08:23 pm (UTC)
You made me LOL here!
Mar. 11th, 2012 06:59 am (UTC)
I know how you feel. Three minutes of jujistu wrestling and I'm wiped. Of course, that's when the teacher is telling me what I should have done. I'd laugh at myself if I had any breath left.
Mar. 11th, 2012 10:49 pm (UTC)
So true!
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Mar. 10th, 2012 05:50 pm (UTC)
Absolutely! And I make sure to do those bursts whenever I think of it.

We're both starting Crossfit next week, too!

(Deleted comment)
Mar. 10th, 2012 06:48 pm (UTC)
Absolutely! Thanks!
( 14 comments — Leave a comment )

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