Why some people get more benefits from exercise than others

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Although everyone can benefit from exercise, the mechanistic links between physical fitness and overall health are not fully understood, nor are the reasons why the same exercise can have different effects in different people.

In a new study from Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, researchers provide insights related to these unanswered questions.

They found while groups as a whole benefit from exercise, the variability in responses between any two individuals undergoing the very same exercise regimen is actually quite striking.

For example, some may experience improved endurance while others will see improved blood sugar levels.

In the study, the team measured the blood levels of approximately 5,000 proteins in 650 sedentary adults before and after a 20-week endurance exercise program.

A set of 147 proteins in the blood indicated an individual’s cardiorespiratory fitness, or VO2max, at the start of the study.

Another set of 102 proteins indicated an individual’s change in VO2max following the completion of the exercise program.

The team found proteins that emanate from bone, muscle, and blood vessels that are strongly related to cardiorespiratory fitness and had never been previously associated with exercise training responses.

With this information, the research team developed a protein score that improved their ability to predict an individual’s trainability, or change in VO2max.

For example, the score identified individuals who were unable to strongly improve their cardiorespiratory fitness despite participating in the standardized exercise program

The scientists found that some of these proteins were linked to an elevated risk of early death, highlighting the link between cardiorespiratory fitness and long-term health outcomes.

They now have a detailed list of new blood compounds that further inform the understanding of the biology of fitness and exercise adaptation, and predict individual responses to a given exercise regimen.

While no pill is ever likely to recapitulate the diversity of benefits from exercise, this study has helped create a roadmap to further explore potential interventions and provides an important step in individualizing exercise as a therapy.

The study is published in Nature Metabolism. One author of the study is Robert E. Gerszten, MD.

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