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How Exercise Changes Fat and Muscle Cells

Gretchen Reynolds on the science of fitness.

 Exercise promotes health, reducing most people’s risks of developing diabetes and growing obese. But just how, at a cellular level, exercise performs this beneficial magic — what physiological steps are involved and in what order — remains mysterious to a surprising degree.

Several striking new studies, however, provide some clarity by showing that exercise seems able to drastically alter how genes operate.

Genes are, of course, not static. They turn on or off, depending on what biochemical signals they receive from elsewhere in the body. When they are turned on, genes express various proteins that, in turn, prompt a range of physiological actions in the body.

One powerful means of affecting gene activity involves a process called methylation, in which methyl groups, a cluster of carbon and hydrogen atoms, attach to the outside of a gene and make it easier or harder for that gene to receive and respond to messages from the body. In this way, the behavior of the gene is changed, but not the fundamental structure of the gene itself. Remarkably, these methylation patterns can be passed on to offspring – a phenomenon known as epigenetics.

What is particularly fascinating about the methylation process is that it seems to be driven largely by how you live your life. Many recent studies have found that diet, for instance, notably affects the methylation of genes, and scientists working in this area suspect that differing genetic methylation patterns resulting from differing diets may partly determine whether someone develops diabetes and other metabolic diseases.

But the role of physical activity in gene methylation has been poorly understood, even though exercise, like diet, greatly changes the body. So several groups of scientists recently set out to determine what working out does to the exterior of our genes.

The answer, their recently published results show, is plenty.

Of the new studies, perhaps the most tantalizing, conducted principally by researchers affiliated with the Lund University Diabetes Centre in Sweden and published last month in PLoS One, began by recruiting several dozen sedentary but generally healthy adult Swedish men and sucking out some of their fat cells. Using recently developed molecular techniques, the researchers mapped the existing methylation patterns on the DNA within those cells. They also measured the men’s body composition, aerobic capacity, waist circumference, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and similar markers of health and fitness.

Then they asked the men to start working out. Under the guidance of a trainer, the volunteers began attending hourlong spinning or aerobics classes approximately twice a week for six months. By the end of that time, the men had shed fat and inches around their waists, increased their endurance and improved their blood pressure and cholesterol profiles.

Less obviously, but perhaps even more consequentially, they also had altered the methylation pattern of many of the genes in their fat cells. In fact, more than 17,900 individual locations on 7,663 separate genes in the fat cells now displayed changed methylation patterns. In most cases, the genes had become more methylated, but some had fewer methyl groups attached. Both situations affect how those genes express proteins.

The genes showing the greatest change in methylation also tended to be those that had been previously identified as playing some role in fat storage and the risk for developing diabetes or obesity.

“Our data suggest that exercise may affect the risk for Type 2 diabetes and obesity by changing DNA methylation of those genes,” says Charlotte Ling, an associate professor at Lund University and senior author of the study.

Meanwhile, other studies have found that exercise has an equally profound effect on DNA methylation within human muscle cells, even after a single workout.

To reach that conclusion, scientists from the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and other institutions took muscle biopsies from a group of sedentary men and women and mapped their muscle cell’s methylation patterns. They then had the volunteers ride stationary bicycles until they had burned about 400 calories. Some rode strenuously, others more easily.

Afterward, a second muscle biopsy showed that DNA methylation patterns in the muscle cells were already changing after that lone workout, with some genes gaining methyl groups and some losing them. Several of the genes most altered, as in the fat cell study, are known to produce proteins that affect the body’s metabolism, including the risk for diabetes and obesity.

Interestingly, the muscle cell methylation changes were far more pronounced among the volunteers who had ridden vigorously than in those who had pedaled more gently, even though their total energy output was the same.

The overarching implication of the study’s findings, says Juleen Zierath, a professor of integrative physiology at the Karolinska Institute and senior author of the study, is that DNA methylation changes are probably “one of the earliest adaptations to exercise” and drive the bodily changes that follow.

Of course, the intricacies of that bogglingly complex process have yet to be fully teased out. Scientists do not know, for instance, whether exercise-induced methylation changes linger if someone becomes sedentary, or if resistance training has similar effects on the behavior of genes. Nor is it known whether these changes might be passed on from one generation to the next. But already it is clear, Dr. Ling says, that these new findings “are additional proof of the robust effect exercise can have on the human body, even at the level of our DNA.”

As originally published in New York Times

Exercise for Healthy Skin

It’s hardly news that exercise is great for your heart, lungs, and mental outlook. Here’s another reason to get moving: Regular exercise is one of the keys to healthy skin.

“We tend to focus on the cardiovascular benefits of physical activity, and those are important. But anything that promotes healthy circulation also helps keep your skinhealthy and vibrant,” says dermatologist Ellen Marmur, MD, author of Simple Skin Beauty: Every Woman’s Guide to a Lifetime of Healthy, Gorgeous Skin and associate professor of dermatology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.

If you have dermatological conditions such as acne, rosacea, or psoriasis, you may need to take special care to keep your skin protected while exercising. But don’t let skin problems prevent you from being active. Here’s why.

By increasing blood flow, exercise helps nourish skin cells and keep them vital. “Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to working cells throughout the body, including the skin,” says Marmur. In addition to providing oxygen, blood flow also helps carry away waste products, including free radicals, from working cells. Contrary to some claims, exercise doesn’t detoxify the skin. The job of neutralizing toxins belongs mostly to the liver. “But by increasing blood flow, a bout of exercise helps flush cellular debris out of the system,” Marmur tells WebMD. “You can think of it as cleansing your skin from the inside.”

Exercise has also been shown to ease stress. “And by decreasing stress, some conditions that can be exacerbated by stress can show some improvement,” says Brian B. Adams, MD, associate professor and director of the Sports Dermatology Clinic at the University of Cincinnati. Conditions that can improve when stress is reduced include acne and eczema. Although researchers are still investigating the link between stress and skin, studies show that the sebaceous glands, which produce oil in the skin, are influenced by stress hormones.

Regular exercise helps tone muscles, of course. That doesn’t have a direct affect on skin, dermatologists say. But firmer muscles definitely help you look better overall.

The Healthy Skin Workout

For all its many benefits, however, exercise can pose risks to your skin. Fortunately, protecting your skin is easy.

“The main danger if you exercise outdoors is sun exposure,” says April Armstrong, MD, assistant professor of dermatology at the University of California, Davis. Sunburns increase skin cancer risk and rapidly age the skin, erasing any benefits your skin might get from exercise. The best advice is to avoid exercising outside during peak sun time, between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

If you have to work out during peak sun time, however, wear sunscreen. “A lot of athletes are reluctant to put on sunscreen because it gets into their eyes when they sweat and stings,” says Marmur. “But new Ph-balanced sunscreens are now available that don’t sting.” If you have naturally oily skin or problems with acne, choose a gel or oil-free product or the latest innovation, powder laced with SPF protection.

Don’t count of sunscreen alone to protect you, however. “Sweating can remove the sunscreen that athletes put on and there is evidence that sweating actually increases the chance of burning,” Adams tells WebMD. “After athletes sweat, it takes 40% less ultraviolet rays to burn than when they are not sweating.” For added protection, wear clothes that cover as much skin as possible and a hat to shade your face, if possible.

Another skin problem that can arise during activity is chafing, which can cause rashes. For people prone to acne, the irritation and increased perspiration caused by tight-fitting workout clothes may lead to a form of acne aptly called acne mechanica. “The two keys to prevention are to wear moisture-wicking clothing, such as bras and hats, to keep skin drier and cooler and to shower immediately after exercising,” says Adams. Wearing loose-fitting workout clothes can also help. Make sure your skin is clean before you work out to prevent clogged pores that lead to acne. Avoid wearing makeup when you exercise. After showering, apply a soothing skin moisturizer or powder to help prevent skin irritation.

Rx for Exercise-Related Skin Problems

Several other skin conditions can be exacerbated by physical activity, including rosacea, eczema, and psoriasis. That’s no reason not to exercise, dermatologists say. The benefits of exercise outweigh any temporary problems it can cause. And there are simple strategies to prevent flare-ups when you work out.

For rosacea sufferers, increased body temperature and the skin flushing that accompany exercise can cause flare-ups. The best strategy, dermatologists say, is to exercise in a cool environment. “One of the best choices is swimming, since the water keeps skin cool even when you build up body temperature,” Marmur told WebMD. (Be sure to moisturize your skin afterward, however, since chlorine has a drying effect.) Brisk walking in an air-conditioned mall or waiting until the cool of the evening to jog outside are other good options. “If you do get flushed and overheated while exercising, apply cool compresses to problem areas of the skin immediately after your workout,” says Andrea Cambio, MD, a private practice dermatologist in Cape Coral, Fla.

Eczema or psoriasis sufferers can also experience flare-ups after strenuous activity, usually caused by salt from perspiration. Marmur recommends spreading on a moisturizer before a workout to provide protection from sweat. Be especially careful to moisturize your arms and legs and areas with skin creases, such as underarms and groin. If possible, exercise in a cool environment to reduce perspiration and the need for showering after exercise. Washing too often can cause dryness and exacerbate eczema and psoriasis.

“Physical activity can definitely pose a challenge, but we encourage all our patients with psoriasis and eczema to exercise to improve their overall health,” says Armstrong. Despite the occasionally temporary flare-ups, she adds, many patients see their conditions improve in the long term.


Originally published on WebMD

The Keys To Making Exercise a Daily Habit

Now that you are well into the our healthy lifestyle, you might be finding that keeping those healthy exercise resolutions are more of a challenge than you initially thought. Busy daily schedules between work, school, errands, taking care of the kids and cooking meals for the family can leave you exhausted at the end of the day and feeling unmotivated to squeeze in a workout. But don’t worry, because not all hope is lost on your health and fitness goals. The keys to making exercise a daily habit are attainable!

By following a few simple guidelines, you can make exercise an easy incorporation into your daily or weekly routine.

  1. Set a realistic goal. If this is your first time to commit to regular exercise, start slow and easy. Rather than commit to five days a week, start with two. If you try for five days a week and find that you cannot make every day, your confidence and determination will start to wane, and you’ll eventually give up on the routine. Instead, start with something you can realistically accomplish. The same principle applies to your fitness and weight loss goals. Set small goals and gradually work your way up to bigger goals once you feel you are ready to step up.
  2. Pick a workout time that works for you. Everyone is different when it comes to exercise abilities and energy levels. If you’re not a morning person, or if you find that your energy is not high in the early hours, a morning workout is not ideal. Instead, hit the gym during your lunch break or in the evenings. Those who hate waking up early or do not feel motivated to exercise first thing in the morning likely won’t keep the routine.
  3. Plan ahead. Pack a gym bag the night before so you already have what you need ready to go the next day. That way, you cannot say, “Oh, I can’t workout today because I forgot my shoes.” Being prepared and ready is a key step to feeling motivated and not having an excuse not to go.
  4. Choose an activity you enjoy. Doing something you like is essential to staying motivated. Those who dislike their workout or feel that they are not getting the results they wanted are more likely to give up early no matter how much they want results.

Studies have shown that three weeks is all it takes to establish a long-term routine. So don’t give up just yet on your new workouts. Keep it up for just a couple more weeks and give your best effort in making exercise a part of your daily lifestyle.

Best Time of Day To Exercise and Prevent Weight Gain

“What time should I workout today?” That’s usually a question we all ask ourselves each day. For optimal fat-burning results, research has indicated that the best time of day to exercise and squeeze in a workout could be in the early morning hours before you have had breakfast. Doing exercise in a fasted state allows the body to burn more fat and prevent excess weight gain compared to working out at other times.

In one study, researchers compared the weight gain of three groups of participants, all eating the same diet and calorie intake: one that exercised before breakfast, one that exercised after having breakfast, and one that did not exercise at all. After six weeks, the group that did not exercise had gained about six pounds, while the group that exercised after eating breakfast added about three pounds. But the group that exercised on no breakfast had no weight gain.

So if fat-burning or weight loss is your goal, try setting your alarm a little earlier in the morning, and get your workout before you eat the first meal of the day.

Information gathered from New York Times.

Exercise Hormone “Irisin” Proven in Human Body

Scientists have determined irisin, a hormone thought previously to be a myth in humans, does in fact reside in humans. The hormone is also shown to have increased levels within individuals who undergo aerobic interval training.

The article journaling the discovery was published on Aug. 13, 2015 in Cell Metabolism journal. According to scientist Mark P. Jedrychowskim who wrote the article, “Irisin is an exercise-induced myokine [protein secreted from skeletal muscle] with beneficial metabolic functions.”

The discovery comes following an experiment by Jedrychowskim, et al. using tandem mass spectrometry, a fairly recent tool in the scientific world that detects molecules by their weight and/or mass. The experiment used plasma samples from two test groups: one, where the subjects (6 males, roughly 25 years old, with an average BMI of 24.3) exercised 3 days out of the week on a cycle ergometer at 90% peak aerobic capacity; and a second, sedentary group (4 males, roughly 26 years old, with an average BMI of 26.1), who did not participate in the aerobic exercise training.

The level of iris in present in the sedentary individuals was ~3.6 ng/ml, while levels in the individuals who participated in aerobic activity were at ~4.3 ng/ml. According to Jedrychoskim, this suggests human irisin is regulated by exercise.

For the moment, human irisin’s exact functions remain unknown, though its discovery is certain to lead scientists to determine irisin’s relationship with the human body.

25 Ways Healthy Living, Exercise, and Nutrition Are Related to Spirituality

Stop thinking of your life as a bar graph and start thinking of it as a van diagram. The different parts of what makes you-you- your health, hobbies, and spirituality- aren’t isolated from one another. They build off each other and bleed into one another, working together in union to make you happier and more fulfilled. A wealth of scientific evidence shows that a healthy and active lifestyle can pay huge dividends in spiritual fulfillment. Read our list of 25 ways healthy living, exercise, and nutrition are related to spirituality:

  • Balanced Hormones Increase Spirituality

Exercising helps foster positive hormones, such as dopamine and epinephrine which can ultimately impact your perception of life. And if you struggle with some not-so-positive feelings, the more endorphins the better your mood. Balanced hormones will help you focus on improving your quality of life. You will more likely engage in spiritual practices when you have an uplifted and happy spirit! Feeling unbalanced in your emotions? Get to exercising for your spiritual health, my friends.

  • Energy and The Spirit

The energy that we acquire from exercising fuels our bodies for day to day physical activities. Not only does exercise provide physical benefits but it also boosts our brains mental energy. Mental stimulation is key in order to function at a higher spiritual level. The high that we get from the increased energy of working out motivates us to actively pursue our spiritual desires. Increased energy will encourage practices such as meditation, connecting with nature, practicing gratitude, loving others, and plenty more.

  • Physical Fitness & Spirituality

Aerobic exercises combined with strength training are a body’s best friend. Physical activity keeps you lean, fit, and strong to do everyday practices. So whether that be helping a struggling stranger lift an object, run a 5k to beat cancer, or volunteer on your feet all day, we all need endurance to engage in our own spiritual practices. A healthy body will encourage one to live out a spiritual life filled with action and integrity.

  • Food For the Soul

Mindfully eating can have a major impact on our bodies and mind. The QUALITY of food we decide to put into our stomachs can ultimately either harm or help us in our spiritual walk. Ingesting foods such as fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and whole grains affect our brain for the better. These foods provide certain chemicals that positively influence one’s mood and behaviors. When we feel good, our thoughts and actions will have a greater impact on the world around us. So eat clean to boost your spiritual life!

  • Stress Effects on Spirituality

If you feel overwhelmed in life, engaging in regular physical activity can greatly reduce stressful adrenaline and cortisol levels in the body. This in turn, will help you be more involved with your spiritual practices. As you continue to nurture your spiritual life, stress levels will also stay at a low. When we have less stress weighing us down, we spend our time engaging in uplifting things to connect us to something greater than ourselves. Those who are less stressed are happier, sleep better, more energized, and better focused.

  • Dancing in Spirit

Dancing will not only tone you up but also uplift your spirit! There’s just something in the art of dance that can sweep us away into something greater than ourselves. It can be a freeing experience for the human spirit to just move as it pleases. Eline Kieft from the Department Centre for Dance Research at Coventry University puts it this way in that “Dancing spirituality integrates the totality of the human being in movement.”

  • Walk or Hike Your way to Spirituality

We all know how much a long walk or hike can help clear a foggy mind of worry and stress. Well, walking or hiking is a great form of exercise for not only a fit body but for a healthy spiritual life as well! These actions have a way of deepening our spirits and helps us focus on the bigger picture by giving our mind a break. Real psychological health benefits take place as we walk. We have more energy, creativity, and uplifted spirits which ultimately impacts the soul in great ways. So whether you set out to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, (like Cheryl Strayed), or just walk on the treadmill for 30 minutes, mindfully walking can transform your spiritual life!  

  • Practice Yoga

Derived from the Hindu religion, Yoga has become one of the most beloved spiritual practices around the world. This type of workout connects mind, body and spirit in different ways in which its “practices are aimed at the experience of contemplative states of consciousness and spirituality,” according to a journal published in NCBI. This research on yoga shows that it can improve one’s balance, flexibility, strength, cardiorespiratory fitness, mood, mindfulness, and overall spiritual life. If you’re looking for a great workout that improves your spiritual health as well, yoga just might be for you!

  • Meditate For Spiritual Health

Mindful practices have been around for a long time and has been a huge part of many different religions. Meditation can really be a great tool when it comes to destressing. It does more than just that, though! From improving concentration, self acceptance, happiness and more, meditation is just plain healthy for the soul. By focusing on one’s breath, meditation can connect a person deeper into their own spiritual journey that can bring about an abundant of health benefits.  

  • The Spirituality of Prayer

Prayer is a staple in a lot of religions, but religious or not, all people can incorporate this spiritual ritual in their everyday life. Prayer can be a way for the human spirit to connect to a higher power. It’s no doubt that prayer can help you feel less stressed, happier, more emotionally stable and centered. Harvard scientist Herbert Benson, MD believes all types of prayer “evoke a relaxation response that quells stress, quiets the body, and promotes healing.”

  • Walk Among Nature

Spending time in nature can be a powerful tool for self-reflection and personal health. If you choose to listen and absorb what the outdoors has to offer, then transformation can take place. Walking among the trees, feeling the wind on your face, or simply hearing the birds chirp are all apart of nature’s gifts to us. Did you know that Yale actually has a Center for Spirituality in Nature that’s devoted to deepening one’s human spiritual connection to the Divine? So next time you’re outside just open your minds and watch nature do wonders for your health.

  • Discipline and Spirituality

In order to see tangible results from a fitness or nutrition plan, you first need to establish self discipline. Whether that be working out at a specific time every day, or resisting to eat that slice of cake, discipline takes effort and energy. Applying this type of approach to your spiritual life can truly help in your spiritual journey! Spiritual practices that help with discipline involve action, learning, understanding, absorbing, and cultivation of one’s own journey.

  • The ART of Spirituality

The arts have always been integral to religion.  Even in the twentieth century, many artists saw their art in spiritual terms.  In terms of spiritual health, being able to express yourself through art helps to relieve stress, encourages creative thinking, boosts self-esteem, and provides a sense of accomplishment.

  • When The Spirit Sings

Did you know singing is healthy for the heart? And group singing is a great way to reap health benefits. According to several studies, singing helps lower stress, produce endorphins, and relieve anxiety. Singing can no doubt be a spiritual practice if you want it to be. Many religions actually use singing as a spiritual practice. Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” Colossians 3:16

  • Running Towards Spirituality

Ah the high we get after a good run. Running a marathon or simply a 5k can definitely benefit your wellbeing for the better. Many runners can tell you just how fulfilling and spiritual this exercise can be! Runner’s World puts it this way “The spiritual benefits available in running–appreciating nature, developing a communion with others, seeing how things in the universe connect, meditating–can quiet the mind, facilitate introspection, and help you become more virtuous and whole.”

  • Fasting’s Effect on Spirituality

There are many health benefits of fasting.  Among many benefits, fasting can help you lose weight more efficiently, improve your insulin sensitivity, and reduce oxidative stress in the body.  Fasting also helps to regulate your hormone levels so that you can curb your appetite and only eat when you are truly hungry.

  • Spirituality Benefits Psychological Well-Being

According to Jesus, it is best to forgive, even if you have to do so more than once.  Being able to forgive others contributes to healthier relationships and lowered chronic stress levels. Let go of that grudge and forgive for your health!

  • Spirituality Can Help You Beat Addiction

Spirituality has played a big role in the Alcoholics Anonymous program. Spirituality is a big part in the guiding principles of the AA program and embodies developing positive coping skills along with having faith in a higher power to overcome addiction.

  • Hope Brings Health

Having hope is essential for a positive outlook on life. In a 35 year clinical study of Harvard Graduates, it was shown that graduates who expressed hope and optimism lived longer and experienced fewer illnesses in their lifetime.  Additionally, having a positive and hopeful outlook will reduce the levels of stress hormones that your body produces.  

  • The Effect of Love and Social Support on Health:

It’s those special bonds we share with each other that satisfy and enrich our lives. Did you know that social support from those closest to us can actually help protect us against certain diseases? Research from the University of Maryland Medical Center found that social support actually helped guard a Pennsylvanian family against heart disease! Looks like it’s time to start loving each other, my spiritual friends.

  • Spirituality’s Effect on Health

Lack of spiritual connection to self and others, self-destructive behaviors, and isolation from others in life may contribute hormonal imbalances which will inevitably manifest as illness in the body.  Some ways to keep your hormones in check include regular exercise and having a healthy, balanced diet.

  • Spirituality and Personal Hygiene

Simply put, hygiene is a key component of human health and well-being.  Aside from the overall health benefits, having good personal hygiene will help you feel confident about yourself.  In some religions like Islam, you are expected to give special attention to personal hygiene in respect to faith. Plus, who doesn’t like to smell good?

  • Volunteer in Your Community:

Many people who volunteer their time, money and energy for apparently nothing in return still reap spiritual benefits.  Being a volunteer not only increases your sense of well-being, it can help reinforce your ties to the community and give you a greater sense of justice. So go out and impact the community with your spirit of service!

  • Sleep and The Soul

Sleep may be the image or brother of death, for in sleep the body rests while the soul remains awake, so in death the body rests while the soul and spirit live.” – William Shakespeare

Without a doubt, sleep is extremely important for your health and well-being.  From a religious perspective, the importance of sleep is referenced in many texts including the Quran, the Bible, the Torah, Kabbalah, and Buddhist teachings.  Upon going to sleep, the body and mind calm down from daily activity and our physiology and neurology begin their critical restorative processes.

  • Sex Can Be Spiritual

Sex is a great source of pleasure for human beings. Not only is sex a great way to exercise your body, but it can also exercise your spiritual life. Roughing up the sheets with an intimate partner can truly transform and connect you on a higher level of energy. Next time you’re with your partner, try being fully aware of the vibrancy being exchanged between the two. Sex can be something that goes beyond the physical limitations with a sense of “heightened awareness and expanded consciousness,” if you let it.