In a study from Washington State University, scientists found consistent exercise can change the molecules in the human body that influence how genes behave and reduce the risk of metabolic disease.
They found the more physically active siblings in identical twin pairs had lower signs of metabolic disease, measured by waist size and body mass index.
This also correlated with differences in their epigenomes, the molecular processes that are around DNA and independent of DNA sequence, but influence gene expression.
The more active twins had epigenetic marks linked to lowered metabolic syndrome, a condition that can lead to heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.
The study suggests that markers of metabolic disease are strongly influenced by how a person interacts with their environment as opposed to just their inherited genetics.
In the study, the team collected cheek swabs from 70 pairs of identical twins who also participated in an exercise study.
They collected data on the twins at several different points in time from 2012 to 2019.
Many of the twin pairs were found to be discordant, meaning they differed from each other, on measures of physical activity, neighborhood walkability, and body mass index.
An analysis by the lab of the cells in the discordant twins’ cheek swabs revealed epigenetic differences too.
The team found the twin in the discordant pair with a high level of physical activity, defined as more than 150 minutes a week of exercise, had epigenetic alterations in areas called DNA methylation regions that correlated with reduced body mass index and waist circumference.
Those regions are also linked to over 50 genes that have already been identified as specific to vigorous physical activity and metabolic risk factors.
Scientists have previously noted that the majority of identical twins develop different diseases as they get older even though they have the same genes. Epigenetics may help explain the reason why.
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The study was conducted by Michael Skinner et al and published in the journal Scientific Reports.
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