With a single workout, you can change your DNA. You won’t be able to make yourself taller, but the genetic modifications that occur can help your muscles adapt to exercise. In a recent study, sedentary volunteers were asked to work out on an exercise bike for 20 minutes. By taking muscle biopsies from the quadriceps, researchers were able to see how exercise affected the DNA in the muscle cells. You inherit your DNA from your parents. This determines what you look like and how your cells function. In this study, the researchers found that while the DNA code remained the same, the cells increased the activity of certain genes related to muscles. One way that cells can control genes is by “turning them off.” This can be done by adding chemical components, called methyl groups, to the DNA. Taking these away activates the gene. The cell is then free to convert the information stored in DNA into enzymes and proteins, all things needed by muscles to ramp up the burning of calories and oxygen consumption. After exercise, the DNA in the muscle cells of the volunteers had fewer methyl groups attached, meaning the muscles had adjusted to the increased metabolic demands of exercise. The researchers also found that this gene activity increased with the workout intensity. This brings home the point that exercise can have profound effects on your health and body, even deep within your cells. Exercise essentially prepares you for further exercise by modifying your DNA. Once again, it’s a matter of using it before you lose it.
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