“Exercise is a non-pharmacological life-style factor, which plays an important role in maintaining a healthy brain through out life and in human ageing. It is a powerful environmental intervention capable of gene expression change, improved neurogenesis, enhanced synaptic plasticity and signaling pathways, and involving epigenetic regulation in the brain and cerebellum in humans, Raji et al. 2016...", (Rea, I. M. (2017).
In general terms, it’s understood that our genetic inheritance plays a key role in either our ability to have a long healthy life or for developing a chronic disease and illness.
Epigenetics is a recent scientific discovery to the study of genetics. Epigenetics shows us that behavioral and environmental lifestyle choices may influence up to 50% of our genetically inherited predisposition. Both endogenous and exogenous epigenetic influences can determine how our genes are expressed.
“A recent addition to genetics has been epigenetics, which includes the role of the environment, both social and natural, including day-to-day habits, lifestyle and personal experiences on human health. Epigenetics establishes a scientific basis for how external factors and the environment can shape an individual both physically and mentally”, (Kanherkar, R. R., Bhatia-Dey, N., & Csoka, A. B., 2014).
Epigenetics refers to how our inherited genes are used. Behavioral and lifestyle choices affect which genes are switched on, or “expressed”, and which genes are switched off. (Kanherkar, R. R., Bhatia-Dey, N., & Csoka, A. B. (2014).
A genome “marker” is the epigenomic compound that attached to (our) DNA with instructions, we inherited this as it was passed down generationally, (https://www.genome.gov/27532724/epigenomicsfact-sheet/).
While “genome” refers to the whole DNA sequence, the “epigenome” refers to the entire pattern of epigenetic modifications across all genes, including methylation DNA tags.
“The epigenome is a multitude of chemical compounds that can tell the genome what to do. The human genome is the complete assembly of DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid)-about 3 billion base pairs - that makes each individual unique. ... Rather, they change the way cells use the DNA's instructions”, which means they can be influenced to either turn on or off.
EXERCISE AFFECTS EPIGENOME
Exercise can be considered a preventative medicine. It can reduce the risk of developing a chronic illness and enhance one's overall well-being. Scientific research has identified some molecular pathways that show how physical exercise produces changes in the human epigenome. This finding indicates the potential for cognitive enhancement, improved psychological health, better muscular fitness, and extends to overall better aging and improved quality of life throughout one's lifespan.
“Exercise is a key factor in maintaining our functional autonomy and can protect us from sarcopenic loss of muscle mass and strength which occurs with increasing age, and which is a major contributor to the frailty syndrome, Walston 2012; Cruz-Jentoft et al. 2010; Morley et al. 2001”, (Rea, I. M., 2017).
Exercise activates certain genes by adding tags to DNA via methylation. These tags turn on or off gene switches. A regular exercise routine can cause a “modification in the genome-wide methylation pattern of DNA…”. Even a single exercise event causes immediate changes in the methylation pattern of certain genes in our DNA, and thus affects gene expression, (Rea, I. M., 2017).
Making healthy lifestyle choices like regular exercise is a way each person can actively modify their epigenome, and thus their epigenetics, in an effort to preserve and prolong their lifespan. Exercise activates epigenetic tags added to our DNA, such as methylation, which allows our DNA to better regulate metabolism and create beneficial changes to the skeletal muscle.
“The health benefits of physical exercise, especially on a long term and strenuous basis, has a positive effect on epigenetic mechanisms and ultimately may reduce incidence and severity of disease, Sanchis-Gomar et al., 2012”, Kanherkar, R. R., Bhatia-Dey, N., & Csoka, A. B. (2014). Exercise activates a cellular stress response. Aerobic and anaerobic exercise re-energizes the mitochondria.
Our muscle growth during a lifespan is regulated by anabolic, the chemical reactions that synthesize molecules in metabolism, and catabolic, the destructive metabolism and breaking down of more complex substances with the release of energy, mechanisms of our gene expressions.
Exercise revitalizes the mitochondrial function in our muscles. “It not only improves muscle function but also quality of life, with exercise improving mitochondrial function in older individuals as much as in younger exercising individuals, Carter et al. 2015; Kang and Ji 2013; Joseph et al. 2012”, (Kanherkar, R. R., Bhatia-Dey, N., & Csoka, A. B. (2014).
While the research referenced in this article focuses on exercise as the influence of epigenetics, the concept can be applied to many other activities like learning new things, exposure to novel challenges and engaging in new tasks. Additionally, these research includes epigenetics in response to addiction and unhealthy lifestyle activities. I've chosen to focus my article on exercise and healthy lifestyle benefits. Express your gene's wisely!
This blog is intended to explore ideas, educate, entertain and expand our thinking. Some posts speak to current trends in the brain sciences, neural benefits of exercise & sports, emotional intelligence and personal growth.