Share on PinterestA new study investigates how exercise can help rejuvenate aging muscles. Image credit: A Bello/Getty Images.
- Doctors call physical exercise a “polypill,” because it can prevent and treat many of the chronic diseases that are associated with aging.
- A new study of muscle fibers from mice and humans shows how exercise affects gene expression.
- The exercise-induced changes “reprogram” the epigenetic expression of the fibers to a more youthful state.
- The findings could provide leads for the development of drugs to mimic these benefits in people who are unable to exercise.
Research shows that people who exercise regularly not only strengthen their muscles but also improve their overall health, regardless of how late in life they start.
For example, recent studies have found that exercise reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease, as well as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s in older people.
Conversely, reductions in muscle mass and strength are associated with lower quality of life and higher mortality from all causes.
As a result of its proven ability to prevent and treat several chronic diseases at low cost, doctors have called exercise a drug-free “polypill” that can benefit nearly everyone.
“Exercise is the most powerful drug we have,” says Dr. Kevin Murach, assistant professor at the Exercise Science Research Center, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR.
He believes that exercise should be considered a health-enhancing, potentially life-extending treatment, alongside medications and a healthy diet.
Scientists hope that a better understanding of how exercise rejuvenates aged muscle at a molecular level will provide clues for future anti-aging therapies.
Exercise may turn back the clock in muscle fibers by promoting the “epigenetic reprogramming” of chromosomes in the cells’ nuclei.
Epigenetics refers to how chemical changes affect the activity or “expression” of genes. For example, proteins called transcription factors can dial up the expression of particular genes when they bind to specific DNA sequences.
In 2012, Dr. Shinya Yamanaka shared the Nobel Prize for Medicine for his discovery that four transcription factors can revert specialized, mature cells to more youthful, flexible cells called pluripotent stem cells.
The four factors are called Oct3/4, Klf4, Sox2, and Myc, or OKSM for short.
In a new study whose results appear in The Journal of Physiology, Dr. Murach and his colleagues compared the effects of OKSM factors on gene expression in the muscle fibers of mice that had access to an exercise wheel, and mice that had no access.
In addition, they compared the effects of OKSM factors on muscle with the effects of a single transcription factor, Myc. Scientists have found that exercise induces the expression of Myc to a greater extent …….