Long-term endurance exercise found to alter more than 1,000 genes
While much research has investigated short-term physiological responses to exercise a new study has set out to examine how long-term physical training, consistently performed for over a decade, can influence gene activity to prevent metabolic disease.
“Although short bouts of exercise have been shown to influence the gene activity in our muscles, it is the dedication to habitual exercise over a lifetime that is associated with long-term health benefits,” explains lead author on the new study, Mark Chapman.
The study conducted an impressively detailed analysis of accumulated gene transcription changes in skeletal muscle of 40 subjects: 18 long-term endurance trainers, 7 long-term strength trainers, and 15 age-matched untrained controls.
RNA was sequenced from skeletal muscle biopsies tracking the expression of more than 20,000 genes. The results revealed long-term endurance training, defined by either running or cycling, was associated with significant changes in expressions of around 1,000 genes.
These gene expression changes were not seen in the long-term strength trainers. In fact, only 26 genes were changed in this cohort of weightlifters. The researchers behind the study don’t suggest this indicates strength training is less metabolically beneficial compared to endurance training, but instead could more likely be a sign that exercises such as weightlifting more transiently alter gene activity through protein-related mechanisms instead of RNA.
Another interesting observation in the study revealed significant baseline gene expression differences between the untrained male and female controls. However, surprisingly, around 70 percent of those sex-specific differences disappeared upon examining the long-term endurance cohort.
Finally, the researchers compared the data gathered to prior research examining gene activity changes in type 2 diabetics following short-term six to 12 month training regimes. The results suggested even a short exercise program in subjects with pre-existing metabolic disease was enough to substantially alter their skeletal muscle genetic profiles to more closely resemble that seen in the long-term endurance trainers.
“This suggests that even short training programs of 6–12 months are enough to positively influence the health of people suffering from metabolic disorders,” says last author on the study, Carl Johan Sundberg. “The study identifies important ‘exercise-responsive’ genes that may play a role in metabolic diseases.”
The research adds a vital new piece to the puzzle of how exercise improves health. While we know exercise is clearly beneficial to a person’s health, the physiological mechanisms underpinning that association are not well understood, and the long-term metabolic effects of exercise even less so.
The new research was published in the journal Cell Reports.
Source: Karolinska Institutet