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Teach your DNA to protect your heart

By Lowe: Just because certain health problems run in your family doesn’t doom you to unavoidable illness. For instance, you can teach your DNA to protect your heart health and keep your metabolism behaving properly even if your relatives all have heart disease and diabetes.

The way to teach your DNA to behave better: Get outside or go to the gym and do aerobic exercise.

Research at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden demonstrates doing aerobic activities like jogging or cycling produces what are called epigenetic changes in your muscles.

That means the exercise teaches the DNA in your muscles to behave in a healthier manner, decreasing your chances of heart problems, reducing inflammation and helping the cells process sugar more efficiently.

“It is well-established that being inactive is perilous, and that regular physical activity improves health, quality of life and life expectancy,” says researcher Carl Johan Sundberg who teaches at Karolinska’s department of physiology and pharmacology. “However, exactly how the positive effects of training are induced in the body has been unclear. This study indicates that epigenetics is an important part in skeletal muscle adaptation to endurance training.”

On a cellular level, the beneficial changes took place in parts of the genetic material called enhancers that regulate how genes are activated. These DNA sequences usually are distant from the genes they control in contrast to other regulators called promoter regions. In the past, the promoter regions had been thought to be the most important modifiers of what DNA does in the cell.

“We found that endurance training in a coordinated fashion affects thousands of DNA methylation sites and genes associated to improvement in muscle function and health,” says Sundberg. “This could be of great importance for the understanding and treatment of many common diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease, but also for how to maintain a good muscle function throughout life. Interestingly, we also saw that there were epigenetic differences between male and female skeletal muscle, which may be of importance to develop gender specific therapies in the future.”