Topic of the Month August 2014: Exercise and Gene Expression

Article by Tyler Bastianelli
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Doctor Paul KennedyThis is not a science fiction article or wild speculation about the positive effects of exercise on “gene expression” in the human body. Many people blame their genetics concerning their weight and, more importantly, their ability to lose weight or become more fit. But an article published online in the February 22, 2014 journal “Circulation: Cardiovascular Genetics” discusses a direct link between regular exercise and positive metabolic changes at the molecular level. The study stands as another example of the fact that human beings are designed to move and exercise and, as a result, they can maintain and/or improve their cardiovascular health with respect to improvements in certain genetic markers. Although all of the participants lost weight as a result of the year-long study, weight loss was not the only focus in terms of dramatic changes at the molecular level.

All participants in the cardiovascular disease (CVD) prevention study had two or more risk factors for CVD. These factors included high blood pressure, high total cholesterol levels, diabetes or a family history of heart disease. The group was matched and compared to a control group of the same average age (60 yrs.). The experimental group was entered into a one year long lifestyle change program that included a very low fat vegetarian diet, 180 minutes of moderate exercise per week (about 30 minutes per day), a stress management protocol (counseling) and weekly group support sessions. The results were spectacular. Hypertension was reduced from 41% to 17%, obesity dropped from 60% to 37% and dyslipidemia (unhealthy levels of fat or cholesterol in the blood) fell from54% to 37%. There was also a 7% drop in blood pressure and a 38% improvement in fitness levels due, in large part, to the daily exercise program.

But here’s the real game changer, a genetic profile for each participant was taken at the beginning of the study and at the end of the study. After analyzing about 22,000 genes, 143 genes showed a significant change in the way they expressed themselves especially with respect to cardiovascular risk makers for the exercise group. Much of the “change” seemed to be involved in the body’s immune response as well as other known changes involving improved vascular flexibility which reduces blood pressure and inflammation. What this means is that the body can, over time, produce meaning sustainable changes to the cardiovascular system as a response to genetic changes. Indeed, the changes in genetic markers appeared to increase more rapidly from the third month to the twelfth month of the study. This indicates that exercise needs to be sustainable over a reasonable time frame in order to obtain optimal results and that time frame is a several months and not just a few days or weeks. This is also why exercise programs need to be established at reasonable and moderate levels at the start and gradually increase in intensity over time to a point that is sustainable and, therefore, more likely to produce regular adherence. The idea is to exercise the body—not torture it!

Ultimately, the study showed that the expression of genetic changes fostered by regular exercise and dietary common sense appear to work at the genetic level to prevent to heart and circulatory issues such as atherosclerosis (fat adhering to the lining of the arteries), medial arteriosclerosis (hardening of the major arteries), arteriolar sclerosis (hardening of the smaller, peripheral arteries), and endothelial responses necessary to improve or maintain arterial flexibility.

Therefore, the more we exercise and eat right, the greater are the chances that our bodies become “wired” to maintain and support a healthy heart and circulatory system. After all, to do so is in our genes!

I’m Dr. Paul Kennedy and that’s the “Be Fit, Stay Fit” Topic of the Week. Good luck with YOUR fitness and wellness program. I KNOW you can do it!

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