Posted on Nov 26, 2020, 3 p.m.
Short bursts of exercise may significantly improve levels of metabolites that are indicators of key physical health issues, according to a report published in the journal Circulation that offers a better understanding of the beneficial effects that exercise can have on one’s health.
It has been well established that there is a link between physical activity and better health, to attest to this the CDC has said that “Regular physical activity is one of the most important things you can do for your health.” Noting that regular exercise helps to improve one’s brain health, weight management, strengthen muscle and bones, improve mental health, as well as decreasing the risk of developing various diseases such as diabetes, some forms of cancer, and cardiovascular disease.
While these links have been known for a long time, scientists do not fully understand the precise molecular mechanisms that would help to explain the links between being physically active and maintaining better health. With this in mind, the researchers in this study sought to investigate the associations between metabolites that are indicators of health and exercise.
An individual’s metabolism describes the chemical reaction that takes place within their body, metabolites will either facilitate these reactions or they are the end result of them; scientists have identified relationships between exercises and certain changes in metabolites.
“Much is known about the effects of exercise on cardiac, vascular, and inflammatory systems of the body, but our study provides a comprehensive look at the metabolic impact of exercise by linking specific metabolic pathways to exercise response variables and long-term health outcomes,” says Dr. Gregory Lewis who is the section head of Heart Failure at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and senior author of the study.
“What was striking to us was the effects a brief bout of exercise can have on the circulating levels of metabolites that govern such key bodily functions as insulin resistance, oxidative stress, vascular reactivity, inflammation, and longevity.”
For this study (The MGH Study), the team utilized the Framingham Heart Study, and measured 588 metabolites in 411 middle-aged individuals before and immediately after doing 12 minutes of vigorous physical activity on an exercise bike which allowed them to see the effect that exercise has on the metabolome.
The researchers found that the short bursts of exercise significantly altered 80% of a participant's metabolites in favorable shifts, particularly reducing levels of metabolites that are associated with adverse health outcomes when resting. For example, high levels of glutamate have been linked to heart disease, hypertension and diabetes decreased by 29% following exercise and levels of DMGV that are associated with diabetes and liver disease decreased by 18% following exercise, according to the researchers. Findings also showed that metabolic responses may be modulated by factors other than exercise such as BMI and gender with obesity possibly conferring partial resistance to the benefits of exercise.
“Intriguingly, our study found that different metabolites tracked with different physiologic responses to exercise, and might therefore provide unique signatures in the bloodstream that reveal if a person is physically fit, much the way current blood tests determine how well the kidney and liver are functioning,” said Dr. Matthew Nayor, a cardiologist in the Heart Failure and Transplantation section of the MGH Cardiology Division, adding that “Lower levels of DMGV, for example, could signify higher levels of fitness.”
Combination of the information from this analysis with blood samples taken during the previous rounds of the FHS allowed the researchers to determine the longer-term effects of exercise on one’s metabolome. The team noted that their findings may be valuable in helping doctors to determine an individual's fitness level and modify risk factors.
“We’re starting to better understand the molecular underpinnings of how exercise affects the body and use that knowledge to understand the metabolic architecture around exercise response patterns,” explains Dr. Ravi Shah of the Heart Failure and Transplantation section of the MGH Cardiology Division. “This approach has the potential to target people who have high blood pressure or many other metabolic risk factors in response to exercise, and set them on a healthier trajectory early in their lives.”
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