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We all know that exercise is good.

It helps improve overall health and prevent disease, but the reasons for this are not yet fully understood.

Enter Zhen Yan, a professor at VTC’s Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and Virginia Tech’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. He has helped discover thousands of physical changes following endurance exercise of varying durations.

The Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium, of which Yan is a founding member, studied eight weeks of endurance exercise in male and female rats and found thousands of molecular changes. These findings, published in Nature in May, have implications for human health, such as liver disease, intestinal disease, cardiovascular health and tissue regeneration.

“For most people, exercise is better than medicine in most situations,” said Yan, who is also director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute’s Center for Exercise Medicine Research and vice chair of the International Research Group on Biochemistry of Exercise. “These data suggest that exercise can be a very effective and comprehensive protector against diseases such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease and many others. This study has brought to light things we didn’t know, and I think it’s the beginning of uncovering significant effects of exercise in the way it promotes health and prevents disease.”

The National Institutes of Health funded the research, and the study’s authors include Yan and Sarah Lessard, who will join the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute and the Department of Human Nutrition, Food, and Exercise in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences in July.

Is exercise better than medicine?

The Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium studied eight weeks of endurance training in male and female rats, examining changes in blood, plasma, and 18 solid tissues. The researchers analyzed nearly 10,000 samples across four training phases using 25 molecular platforms.

They found thousands of molecular changes, with differences between the sexes in multiple tissues. These changes included the regulation of immune, metabolic and stress responses, as well as mitochondrial signaling pathways relevant to human health issues such as nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, inflammatory bowel disease, cardiovascular health and tissue regeneration. Mitochondria are often referred to as the powerhouse of a cell because they help with chemical energy as well as regulating a cell cycle, cell growth and cell health.

No single drug can have such a positive system-wide effect and be so long-lasting, Yan said.

“The effect of exercise is far better than that of any single drug,” he said. “There are studies that show that exercise during pregnancy can even have a positive effect on the grandchildren, and no single drug can do that.”

The road ahead

For Yan and the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity Consortium, this research opened new doors. First, there is a need to expand research to include resistance-based training—that could be weight lifting, resistance bands, or other methods of building muscle.

But it is also important to truly understand the factors that mediate the molecular changes.

“We need to analyze the health benefits we have found so far,” Yan said. “I have proposed a study analyzing protein factors in the blood released by organs and tissues such as the adrenal glands, muscles and heart in response to a single bout of exercise.”

Are these protein factors or humoral factors the real players in mediating the health benefits of exercise? How do they orchestrate coordinated cellular, biochemical and molecular responses in their target tissues and organs to produce the outstanding health benefits of regular exercise?

These are the burning questions, said Yan.

And those he intends to answer.

/Public release. This material from the original organization/authors may be time-sensitive in nature and has been edited for clarity, style and length. Mirage.News does not represent any institutional position or party, and all views, positions and conclusions expressed herein are solely those of the authors. View full content here.

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