Exercise changes the way our bodies work at a molecular level


Even regular walking can drastically change your health Zetar Infinity/Shutterstock Andrew Thomas, Cardiff Metropolitan University

Exercise is good for you, this we know. It helps build muscle, burn fat and make us all into happier, healthier people. But long before you start looking the way you want, there are other hidden, more immediate, molecular and immunological changes taking place inside your cells. Changes which could be responsible for protecting us from heart disease, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes – and even stave off old age and cancer. The Conversation

You may think that “molecular” changes may not be that much of a big deal. Surely it is fat loss and muscle gain that are the best outcomes of exercise? Actually molecular changes affect the way genes and proteins are controlled inside cells. Genes can become more or less active, while proteins can be rapidly modified to function differently and carry out tasks such as moving glucose into cells more efficiently, or protect cells from harmful toxins.

Type 2 diabetes causes all kinds of health problems, including cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, blindness, kidney failure and nerve damage, and may lead to limb amputation. The underlying cause is the development of a heightened inflammatory state in the body’s tissue and cells. This damages cells and can eventually lead to insulin resistance and, ultimately, type 2 diabetes.

The main risk factors for type 2 diabetes include obesity, a poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle. However, we have found that even low intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, can increase the body’s insulin sensitivity. This means that people at risk of developing diabetes become less prone because they are able to metabolise glucose more efficiently.

In our study, we asked 20 sedentary people who were at risk of developing diabetes to walk briskly for 45 minutes, three times a week, for eight weeks. Although there was no change in their weight, blood pressure or cholesterol level, on average each participant lost a significant six centimetres from their waist circumference. And, more importantly, there was a reduction in their diabetic risk.

Immune system benefits

Interestingly, there were also exercise-induced changes in the participants’ monocytes – an important immune cell that circulates in the bloodstream. This led to a reduction in the body’s inflammatory state, one of the main risks for type 2 diabetes.

When our body is under attack from foreign invaders such as microbes, immune cells such as monocytes change into “microbe-eating” macrophages. Their main function is to fight infection in our tissues and lungs. There are two main types of macrophages, M1 and M2. M1 macrophages are associated with pro-inflammatory responses and are necessary for aggressively fighting off infections. However, in obese people who do not exercise, these cells become active even in the absence of infection. This can lead to an unwanted, heightened inflammatory condition which may “trigger” diabetes.

On the other hand, M2 macrophages play a role in “switching-off” inflammation and are instrumental in “damping-down” the more aggressive M1s. So a healthy balance of M1 and M2 macrophages is crucial to maintain an optimal immune response for fighting infections – and it may help prevent the heightened inflammatory condition which comes from lack of exercise and obesity too.

Macrophages fight off infectious microbes that infiltrate the body. sciencepics/Shutterstock

Other studies have also shown that exercise has a beneficial impact on tissues’ immune cell function and can reduce unnecessary inflammation. Exercise training in obese individuals has been found to reduce the level of tissue inflammation specifically because there are less macrophage cells present in fat tissue.

In addition, researchers have found a significant link between exercise and the balance of M1 and M2 macrophages. It has been shown that acute exercise in obese rats resulted in a shift from the “aggressive” M1 macrophages to the more “passive” M2 – and that this reduction in the inflammatory state correlated with an improvement in insulin resistance.

Time to move

There is no definitive answer as to how much and what intensity of exercise is necessary to protect us from diabetes. Though some researchers have shown that while higher-intensity exercise improves overall fitness, there is little difference between high and low-intensity exercise in improving insulin sensitivity.

However, a new study has found that all forms of aerobic exercise – in particular high-intensity interval training such as cycling and running – can effectively stop ageing at the cellular level. The exercise caused cells to make more proteins for their energy-producing mitochondria and their protein-building ribosomes. Researchers also observed that these “molecular” changes occurring at the gene and protein levels happened very quickly after exercise and that the effects prevented damage to important proteins in the cells and improve the way in which insulin functions.

Although you might not see the changes you want immediately, even gentle exercise can make a big difference to the way the body’s cells behave. This means that exercise could have far-reaching health benefits for other inflammatory associated diseases and possibly protect us against ageing and cancer too.

Andrew Thomas, Principal Lecturer, Cardiff Metropolitan University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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President's Update February

Dr Paul JacksonThe FSEM Diploma in Sport and Exercise Medicine has now become the FSEM Membership Examination. 

We are pleased to be able to offer all doctors working across the spectrum of Sport and Exercise Medicine, the chance to be part of our specialty via a skills and knowledge based qualification.

It is important that the FSEM supports the development of doctors working in musculoskeletal medicine, exercise medicine and team care at all levels. This will maintain standards of excellence and best practice for patients, which range from elite athletes to people recovering from illness and injury or managing a long term condition.

You can read more about the exam name change and changes to our membership criteria in our news item.  

We are also holding elections for new Council members, with a term of office from 2017 to 2021. Members and Fellows will have received a letter and nomination form by email. Our SEM Registrars (or trainees) will also be holding an election for a new Council representative.

Our Education Committee is planning the FSEM session for this year's joint conference with BASEM, in conjunction with the University of Bath 12-13 October. We recently conducted a members survey to find out more about what our members want from this event.  

As always, we welcome views from our Fellows and Members on the Faculty and the work it carries out. Our regular Council Meetings provide a platform for our members to get involved via our Council Representatives.

Written by Dr Paul D Jackson at 11:00

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President's Update December

Dr Paul JacksonAs 2016 draws to a close, I'd like to thank all of our Fellows and Members for their support of the FSEM over the year. It is your continued membership which allows us to represent, develop and lead the specialty of Sport and Exercise Medicine in the UK.

Whilst training and standard setting remaining our core business, engaging with organisations and government bodies to create new opportunities for our doctors, ensuring patients across the healthcare spectrum receive access to the unique medical care our specialty has to offer, will remain an important part of our strategy for 2017. 

With this in mind, the FSEM is now engaging with two more important groups -  Public Health England's Moving Professionals initiative and with the FSEM/British Society of Rheumatology (BSR) Working Party. Through both groups we will offer our expertise in Exercise Medicine and MSK Medicine for public health. 

The FSEM will also be taking part in the open consultation Work, health and disability: improving lives via the Department for Work and Pensions and I would encourage all Fellows and Members with an interest in this to respond or encourage their associated organisations to respond. Find out more about how you can get involved in the news item below.   

As always, we welcome feedback from our Fellows and Members on the Faculty and the work it carries out and our regular Council Meetings provide a platform for our  members to get involved via our Council Representatives.

I wish you all a happy and healthy new year.

Dr Paul D Jackson

Written by Dr Paul D Jackson at 10:30

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President's Update October

Update on Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine business from the President Dr Paul D Jackson
Written by Dr Paul D Jackson at 14:00

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The Olympics alone will not directly encourage enough people to meet recommended physical activity levels

Ioc -homepage -closing -thumbnail 2 Courtesy Of Getty Images

As Rio 2016 bids the world a fond farewell in its closing ceremony our President Dr Paul D Jackson takes a look at the Olympic Legacy and international sporting events' ability to encourage an increase in every day physical activity.

National and international sporting events do an excellent job of raising awareness of the sporting and physical activity possibilities and we support the increase of physical activity in everyone’s day, some of which can be achieved through sport. However, major sporting events alone will not directly encourage enough people to meet CMO recommended physical activity levels. Alongside the vision of the IOC and the Olympic Legacy, additional action is needed from the NHS, the Government, education and other groups, including town planners, to encouraging a cultural change in our society to build increased physical activity into everyday life.

We can see this is beginning to be addressed via government initiatives such as Sporting Future – A New Strategy for an Active Nation and the Scottish Physical Activity Pathway. Added to this is the Government’s Five Year Forward View which calls for ‘a radical upgrade in prevention and public health’. Sport and Exercise Medicine has a unique skills base, developed from the latest advancements in sport and exercise, which can deliver cost effective healthcare based around the prevention and treatment of many common diseases and conditions. As part of the Olympic Legacy, the FSEM will continue to work with the National Centre for Sport and Exercise Medicine, key government organisations and Royal Medical Colleges to encourage the delivery of exercise medicine skills, prescription and physical activity advice across the NHS.

Dr Paul D Jackson

President of the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine UK


(Image courtesy of Getty Images 2016)

Written by Dr Paul D Jackson at 16:30

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