Regularly participating in rigorous exercises like cycling and aerobics is known to help rid one of excess calories, but, according to a new study, its benefits may go deeper. A group of scientists from Sweden has found that regular exercise changes the way the human body stores and processes fat.
The study, which was published in PLOS Genetics, found that exercising regularly adds and removes chemical groups to human DNA in a process known as epigenetic imprinting. This process, also known as methylation, causes genes to be switched on or off. Regular exercise was found to have affected more than 7,000 genes in overweight individuals who participated in the study. They also found that the activity of key genes involved in storing blood stream sugar inside fat cells was reduced by the exercise.
Thirty-one slightly overweight individuals who had never engaged in regular physical exercises participated in the study. They were asked to undergo three hours of exercise—two hours of aerobics and an hour of spinning classess—every week for six months. Many of them, however, failed to participate in all classes. They collectively worked out for an average of 1.8 hours instead. Despite this, when the researchers took tissue samples of the body fat of participants after the exercise, they noticed changes in the levels of epigenetic imprinting. As many as 17,975 locations were altered on 7,663 genes. Further tests revealed that the epigenetic imprinting of two key genes associated with storing fat reduced the quantity of free fatty acids.
Explaining the reasons for their study, the authors write in the journal: ‘The mechanisms behind the long-lasting effects of regular exercise are not fully understood, and most studies have focused on cellular and molecular changes in skeletal muscle… ’ Excess fatty acids in the blood are known to be associated with diabetes, and the authors argue that their study explains why regular exercise has been seen to reduce the risk of the disease.