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Study reveals just how profound the impact of exercise is

Down To The Mitochondria

We all know that exercise is a key pillar of any longevity strategy. In fact, many longevity experts such as Peter Attia, argue that it might be THEmost important one. In a recent STEM Talk podcast, Attia says that perhaps the biggest shift in his thinking about longevity over the last three years has been in better understanding the role of exercise:

“I don’t think I believed then how important exercise was to longevity. Not that I doubted its importance on the structural side of longevity [but] I don’t think I appreciated how powerful of a tool it [is] for improving the function of the mitochondria, and many other [benefits] like brain health.”

Coming from someone who has been laser-focused on healthspan optimization, this comment carries some weight. Since we like data, we looked for some that would illustrate Attia’s insights. Our search led us to a recently published study about an innovative approach to quantifying the impact of exercise in our bodies. 

A Breakthrough Molecular Study

The study was published in the journal Cell and was conducted by a team at Stanford School of Medicine led by Dr. Michael Snyder, professor and chair of genetics. 

The new ground broken by this study is that it is the first one focused on multi-omic profiling of blood plasma and peripheral blood mononuclear cells. Translation: they set out to make a full inventory of all the molecules in our bodies whose levels changed as a result of exercise. 

Let’s break that down:

This appears to be the first study that analyzes changes in molecular levels post-exercise across many of the ‘omics : the metabolome (metabolites), lipidome (fat-related molecules), proteome (protein molecules), immunome (antibodies), and transcriptome (messenger RNA molecules). This is the most comprehensive inventory to date of what happens at the cellular level after we exercise.

According to Dr. Snyder: 

“Everybody knows exercise is good for you, but we really don't know what drives that at a molecular level. Our goal at the outset was to conduct a highly comprehensive analysis of what's happening in the body just after exercising."

The study subjected 36 participants (ages 40 to 75 and of all levels of aerobic health) to a bout of intense exercise known as VO2 max. This is the gold standard to measure your level of aerobic fitness. It is similar to a treadmill endurance test where you run at increasing levels of intensity until you reach exhaustion.

The research team took blood samples from participants 2 minutes, 15 minutes, 30 minutes and 60 minutes after they finished their exercise bout. They measured 17,662 different molecules in total.

The Results? A Symphony

What the research team saw in their measurements was a highly choreographed rise and fall of nearly 10,000 different molecules whose levels fluctuated post-exercise. Some rose, others fell, while others remained steady at their new higher or lower levels for the full hour of measurement.

For example, in the first two minutes after exercise, an intense flurry of molecular activity could be observed. Molecular markers of inflammation, tissue healing, and oxidative stress rose sharply immediately after the exercise and as the participants’ bodies began to recover. Molecules associated with increased inflammation spiked quickly, then dropped and were replaced by others that reduce inflammation. In Snyder’s words:

“It was like a symphony. First you have the brass section coming in, then the strings, then all the sections joining in. All of these measurements allow us to describe a choreography of molecular events that occur after physical exercise. We know that exercise causes an array of physiological responses, such as inflammation, metabolism and hormone fluctuation, but these measurements allowed us to characterize those changes in unprecedented detail.”

What’s Next: A Blood Test To Measure Physical Fitness?

One interesting outcome of this research is that the team noticed some clear correlations between the levels of certain molecules among the participants that performed best in the VO2 test. They realized that these could be used as biomarkers of longevity. According to another member of the research team:

“[This] gave us the idea that we could develop a test to predict someone’s level of fitness. Aerobic fitness is one of the best measures of longevity, so a simple blood test that can provide that information would be valuable to personal health monitoring.”

To make a test affordable, the team is now working on reducing the number of biomarkers to those that are most representative of a person’s fitness level. They’ve also filed a patent.

What You Can Do

Most of us are probably more sedentary than we realize. Just think of all the hours a day you spend sitting. However, we also don’t need as much exercise as we think to start reaping its benefits. If you need to turn exercise into a habit, ensure success by starting small using this really cool habit-building hack and get going! You have 9,815 molecules ready to make music for your healthspan.

Other sources to go deeper

Stanford Medicine Study Details Molecular Effects of Exercise

Molecular Effects of Exercise Detailed - ScienceDaily

A single Session of Exercise Alters 9,815 Molecules in Our Blood - NY Times

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