As a calorie-burner, exercise is inefficient. For instance, you’d have to run more than three miles to burn off the calories in a bagel with cream cheese. But research shows a way to make the genes in your fat cells behave in a healthier way that produces benefits beyond calorie incineration.
The trick is to exercise consistently every week. In that way, even in small doses, exercise changes the expression of your innate DNA.
“Our study shows the positive effects of exercise, because the epigenetic pattern of genes that affect fat storage in the body changes,” says researcher Charlotte Ling, associate professor at Lund University Diabetes Center in Sweden.
In the study, researchers investigated what happened to the methyl groups in the fat cells of 23 slightly overweight, healthy men aged around 35 who had not previously engaged in any physical activity, when they regularly attended spinning and aerobics classes over a six-month period.
“They were supposed to attend three sessions a week, but they went on average 1.8 times,” says researcher Tina Rönn, an associate researcher at Lund.
Using technology that analyzes 48,000 positions throughout the genome, the scientists could see that epigenetic changes had taken place in 7,000 genes. (An individual has 20,000 genes.)
They then went on to look specifically at the methylation in genes linked to type 2 diabetes and obesity.
“We found changes in those genes too, which suggests that altered DNA methylation as a result of physical activity could be one of the mechanisms of how these genes affect the risk of disease,” says Rönn, adding that this has never before been studied in fat cells and that they now have a map of the DNA methylome in fat.