How exactly does exercise work to make us healthier

Exercise makes us more fit and reduces our risk for illnesses such as diabetes, cancer and heart disease. But just how, from start to finish, exercise translates into a healthier life remains perplexing.

New research informs us the answer probably lays within our DNA. A study published December 2014 in Epigenetics finds that exercise changes the shape and functioning of our genes. The human genome is astonishingly complex and dynamic, with genes constantly turning on or off, depending on what biochemical signals they receive from the body. When genes are turned on, proteins are released that prompt physiological responses elsewhere in the body.

Scientists now know that certain genes become active or quieter as a result of exercise. Gene expression was noticeably increased or changed in thousands of the exercised muscle-cell genes that the researchers studied. Many of the changes related to exercise were on the portions of the genome known as enhancers.  These enhancers augment the genes’ expression of proteins.  This relates to hundreds of health-related proteins being expressed throughout the body. These proteins keep blood pressure and insulin low, and strength and endurance high.

We now better understand one more step in the complex process that makes exercise so good for us. “Through endurance training — a lifestyle change that is easily available for most people and doesn’t cost much money,” lead researcher Dr. Lindholm said, “we can induce changes that affect how we use our genes and, through that, get healthier and more functional muscles that ultimately improve our quality of life.”

Exercise is a key to keeping dementia away

Research reveals that exercise is one of the best ways to protect against dementia in later life and the earlier you start, the greater the effect (from Exercise and Dementia).

However, it is only those ENJOYABLE hobbies, activities, concerts, and book clubs that seem to make a difference in brain health. “The minute a provider prescribes an activity people hate doing…most likely the effect in terms of being beneficial for brain health is lost.”

“It produces so much stress in the body not wanting to do the prescribed repulsive activity that the stress becomes more harmful than the benefit of keeping the brain active.”

Would you like to exercise more for both brain and general health, but have chronic pain issues holding you back? Contact the Feldenkrais Center at 760-436-2403 and let me help you return to those activities that bring you joy.

Lori L. Malkoff, MD 

Lori L. Malkoff, MD