Exercise Changes Your DNA?

Here is an interesting study I dug up that suggests exercise changes the DNA methylation of our genes.  For those of us who aren’t docs (I’m not and had to look this up), DNA methylation is the process which alters the expression of genes in cells as cells divide and differentiate from embryonic stem cells into specific tissues.

I find this pretty interesting, so lets take a look at what happened.

Swedish Research Council
Lund University Diabetes Center


  1. Explore genome wide levels of DNA methylation before and after a six months exercise intervention in adipose tissue from healthy, but previously sedentary men,
  2. Investigate the differences in adipose tissue DNA methylation between individuals with or without a family history of Type 2 Diabetes and,
  3. Relate the changes in DNA methylation to adipose tissue mRNA expression and metabolic phenotypes in vitro.

The study included a total of 31 men, all from Sweden, who were recruited to perform a six month exercise intervention.  15 of the 31 had a first degree family history of Type 2 Diabetes (T2D) whereas 16 of the 31 had no family history of T2D.

The participants, though sedentary, were all considered to be in good health and had a mean age of 37.4 years.  Regular things, such as Body Mass Index (BMI), Body Fat %, and VO2max were measured before beginning the study as a baseline.  Also, researchers biopsied adipose tissue from the right thigh of the participants and analyzed the tissue for DNA methylation.

The exercise program consisted of one 1 hour spinning session and two 2 hour aerobics sessions per week led by a fitness professional.  The participation level averaged 1.8 session per week over the course of the trial (so these guys showed up a little better than half the time on average).  Worth noting, the researchers requested that participants NOT change their diet or daily activity levels during the course of the 6 month period.

Researchers again biopsied adipose tissue from 23 participants post 6 months of exercise and analyzed the tissue for DNA methylation.  Results showed that 17,975 sites corresponding to 7,663 individual genes displayed different methylation patterns post exercise.

Of the sites that displayed a greater than 5% change in DNA methylation, 911 showed increased and 98 decreased levels of DNA methylation.  The important thing to note from the findings is that the genes that displayed the greatest change were also the genes that previously were identified as playing a role in fat storage or were those that were at risk of developing T2D.  In layman’s terms the genes that risked developing T2D improved.  Pretty cool.

This got a little sciency yes, but I think that it is a pretty cool study and something to ponder next time you’re working out.  The physical changes we see in our bodies from exercise, i.e., more definition in our muscles, improved strength and lung function, and decreased body fat % are merely part of the benefit.  At the molecular level, research like this suggests that exercise changes the way our bodies build our cells.

It’s worth mentioning too that the men in this study also benefited from decreased body fat %, increase VO2max, and improved blood pressure and cholesterol profiles post 6 months of exercising 1.8x/week.

Next time you come see Chris, Annie, or I in the gym know that just like we support you…..so does science (I snuck this cheesieness in on purpose).  I’d argue you wouldn’t be able to say the same for an AMRAP sit on couch and watch TV six month study 🙂

The O-Board Says…

A. EMOTM For 10 Minutes

3 Hang Power Clean
(work up to a challenging 3 rep)

B. For Time

2,000m Row
50 Alternating Arm Kettlebell Swing
30 Hang Power Cleans (70-80% of A.)

Post by: Stets