From The Desk Of Clarence Bass
“While the heart, lungs and circulatory system do benefit [from aerobic exercise], more than 50% of the changes take place within the muscles themselves. Effective aerobic exercise makes each muscle involved a more efficient oxygen-processing and fat-burning unit…That’s why cross-country skiers, who use both their legs and arms, have higher oxygen uptake capacities than long-distance runners, bicyclists, speed skaters and other athletes who train mainly the legs.” The Lean Advantage 2 (Ripped Enterprises, 1989)
Epigenetic Specificity—Gene Change Only in Trained Muscles
George Sheehan, and then Heavy Hands originator Len Schwartz, both medical doctors, were the first to make me aware that only the affected muscles benefit from aerobic exercise. That was more than 30 years ago. Since then I’ve made it a point to explain to visitors why our aerobic training room includes machines that train the whole body, including the Concept 2 rower and the Schwinn Air-dyne, and more recently the Concept 2 Ski Erg.
The Air-dyne allows you to train your arms, your legs, or your arms & legs.
Photo by Guy Appelman
Support for that concept has grown over the years, with the latest discovery being in epigenetics. Epigenetics is the heartening concept that genes can be turned “on” or “off” by exercise and other lifestyle changes. Even though every cell in the body has the same genes, their expression (or activity) is regulated by methyl groups or tags which change based on environmental factors. We can often control the way our genes behave.
Three recent studies from Sweden broke new ground on the power exercise gives us to control our genetic destiny. One study described for the first time what happens in fat cells when we exercise. Encouragingly, the researchers found that even short sessions of aerobic exercise produced changes in genes known to control disease risk and fat storage. Payback was almost immediate. The change in methylation patterns occurred after a single workout.
The second study found the response to be dose dependent; high intensity exercise (80%) caused substantially more change in DNA methylation than low intensity (40%) exercise. For more details see my earlier article: http://www.cbass.com/controlgenes.htm
Now, I want to tell you about the third study, published online January 27, 2015, in Epigenetics, which widens our window of understanding on epigenetics and exercise.
Only Trained Leg Changed
The study led by Malene Lindholm, a graduate student at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, had 23 young volunteers pedal with one leg for 45 minutes four times a week for 3 months. One leg was used to make sure that variables such as diet or other factors would not affect their results; the untrained leg served as a control. Only the exercising leg showed methylation changes, while the untrained leg remained unchanged.
Biopsies before and after showed improved performance and significant changes in muscle metabolism in the trained leg. A closer look at methylation sites altered by exercise showed a controlled process that contributes to muscle remodeling. “We provide a valuable and novel perspective on the fields of human physiology and environmental epigenetics, showing that a physiological health-enhancing stimulus can induce highly consistent modifications in DNA methylation that are associated to gene expression changes…,” Lindholm and colleagues concluded.
“The take home message of this study is that through endurance training, a lifestyle change that is easily available for most people, we can induce changes that affect how we use our genes,” co-author Francesco Marabita (Computational Medicine Unit at the Karolinska University Hospital) told the journal BioTechniques.
The first thing that occurs to me is that I would not enjoy pedaling for 45 minutes four times a week, one leg or two. Ask Entourage star Adrian Grenier, who told Runners World (June 2015) that it wasn’t until he started high-intensity interval training and sprints that he “really got into” running.
I doubt that so much volume is necessary. Applying the finding on intensity in the second study, I would prefer to go shorter, harder, and less often.
Based on the unresponsive passive leg in the last study, I would also suggest that Adrian Grenier train his whole body, arms and legs.
Len Schwartz would be overjoyed to learn about epigenetics. He insisted long ago that working all four limbs makes exercise more interesting and more effective. “Lots of units, each doing less, can add up to more,” he explained.
Training the entire body--strength and aerobics--makes every muscle function with maximum power and efficiency.
Challenge all of your muscles to make you leaner, stronger, and healthier. Borrowing a phrase from Cora Henry, a journalism grad student at Indiana University: “Go deep, all the way to the gene level.”
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