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Can exercise change your DNA?

“Just a few minutes of relatively strenuous exercise can dramatically change a person’s DNA,” according to the Daily Mail. The newspaper said new research has found that 20 minutes of exercise can “crank up the genes needed to burn fat and sugar and support the body”.

Exercise is known to affect the energy-making machinery in cells and alter how the body processes sugar. The study examined whether exercise might do this by making a particular type of change to DNA. DNA contains genes, which act as the blueprints for making various proteins, including those involved in releasing energy.

The researchers thought that a process called DNA methylation could be involved. This process influences whether, and to what extent, the body "switches on" genes in our DNA. To test the hypothesis, the researchers asked healthy young people who did not regularly exercise to complete a single, intense cycling session. They tested DNA methylation in samples of thigh muscle taken before and after the exercise. They found that after exercise, the amount of DNA with methylation had decreased, and concluded that this may be the process by which muscle adapts to exercise. However, the changes seen appeared to be only temporary.

It is important to note that this study did not find that exercise changes people’s underlying genetic code (the sequence of "letters" that make up our DNA).

Exercise has numerous benefits for health and weight, which are explained in our health and fitness section.