Mapping the molecular changes linked to exercise and health

Exercise. It’s associated with increased muscle strength, improved heart health, lower blood sugar and just about every other physical improvement you can name. But how does regularly puffing away on a treadmill, biking up a steep hill or going for a brisk lunchtime walk confer such a dizzying array of health benefits?

We’re now closer to finding out, thanks to a vast new study led by researchers, who conducted nearly 10,000 measurements in nearly 20 types of tissues to uncover the effect of eight weeks of endurance exercise in laboratory rats trained to run on rodent-sized treadmills.

Their results highlight striking effects of exercise on the immune system, stress response, energy production and metabolism. They uncovered significant links between exercise, molecules and genes already known to be involved in myriad human diseases and tissue recovery.

The study is one of a series of papers published by members of a multicenter research group meant to lay the groundwork for understanding — on a bodywide, molecular level — exactly how our tissues and cells react when we push them to perform.

“We all know exercise is beneficial for us,” said the author. “But we don’t know much about the molecular signals that manifest across the body when people exercise, or how they may change when people train. Our study is the first to take a holistic, bodywide look at molecular changes, from proteins to genes to metabolites to fats and energy production. It’s the broadest profiling yet of the effects of exercise, and it creates an essential map to how it changes the body.”