A new study found that regular exercise in short bursts can lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and mortality by improving overall metabolic health.
Although we know that regular exercise has numerous benefits, researchers have not been able to fully understand the precise molecular mechanisms that explain the relationship between physical activity and maintaining better health.
So, for this study, the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers wanted to investigate the relationship between metabolites, which are indicators of health and exercise. Metabolism describes the chemical reactions that take place in our body, while metabolites are known to either facilitate these reactions or are their end result.
“Much is known about the effects of exercise on the body’s cardiovascular and inflammatory systems. However, our study offers a comprehensive overview of the metabolic effects of exercise by linking specific metabolic pathways to variables for response to exercise and long-term health outcomes. Said Dr. Gregory Lewis, director of heart failure at MGH and lead author on the study.
For their study, the researchers used data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS), a long-term study by the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute (Maryland, USA). They measured 588 metabolites in 411 middle-aged people before and immediately after 12 minutes of exercise on an exercise bike. This enabled them to see the effects of exercise on the metabolome.
Overall, the researchers found that the brief burst of exercise significantly changed 80% of a participant’s metabolites. In particular, they observed that the metabolites associated with unhealthy outcomes at rest were reduced. For example, high levels of glutamate have been linked to diabetes, heart disease, and high blood pressure. The researchers found that these levels decreased by 29% after exercising. Dimethylguanidino valerate (DMGV) levels associated with liver disease and diabetes decreased by 18% after exercise.
“Interestingly, our study found that different metabolites are tracked with different physiological responses to exercise, and therefore may provide clear signatures in the bloodstream that indicate whether a person is physically fit, much like current blood tests determine how well the kidney and liver are doing work, “explained Dr. Matthew Nayor, a cardiologist in the Heart Failure and Transplant Department at MGH.
By combining the information they gleaned from this analysis with blood samples taken in previous rounds of FHS, the researchers were also able to determine the longer-term effects of exercise on a person’s metabolome.
“We are beginning to better understand the molecular basis of the effects of exercise on the body and use this knowledge to understand the metabolic architecture in relation to response patterns during exercise,” noted Dr. Ravi Shah from the Heart Failure and Transplant Section of MGH.
The researchers hope this approach has the potential to target the physical activity response of people with high blood pressure or many other metabolic risk factors, and move them on a healthier path early in their lives.