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Dr. Rajeev Kurapati: Cracking the genetic code to health and wellness; exercise, diet can change things

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We dedicate so much of our time and energy to figuring out ways to stay fit and healthy.

The answer always seems to circulate back to what we’ve always known – a healthy diet and an active lifestyle are the key to success.

Light exercise makes a difference (Courtesy Creative Commons)

Light exercise makes a difference (From Creative Commons),

What we are learning through our valiant efforts to fully understand health and wellness is that this exercising we are prescribing is actually changing the expression of our DNA, something we never really knew to be possible. Exercise changes the functioning of our genes, a revelation so important to understanding the control we have over our health.

Previous understanding about our inherited traits is that the genes we inherit cannot be changed. A relatively new research field, called epigenetics, has changed this understanding.

Ever since the existence of genes was first suggested in the late 18th Century, science has held one immutable idea: that DNA is the fixed blueprint specific for each organism – our fate is predetermined by our genetic makeup. But only in the last decade has research revealed that this predetermined protocol is not immutable, but instead impacted constantly by our lifestyle choices
.

Starting early with exercising. (Courtesy Creative Commons)

Starting early with exercising.
(From Creative Commons)

Scientists discovered that the genes have chemical tags called ‘methyl groups’ attached which affects gene expression – whether the genes are activated or deactivated. The ‘DNA methylation’ can be influenced in various ways, through exercise and diet – offering us a level of control over our health that we never knew to be possible before. Exercise, for instance, has positive effects on the mind and body through cellular and hormonal pathways, thus gives us a responsibility to stay active knowing that we have the power to overcome many detriments through diet and activity.

To fully understand the impact of these findings, here are five ways exercise can truly change our lives (and our makeup) for the better:

1. Exercise is Medicine: Modifications to the DNA brought on by exercise are linked to genetic reprogramming of muscle for strength, proving the benefits of working out. It could be that better health may literally be just a jog away.

2. Exercise Great for the Brain: Endurance exercise has proven to produce a molecule in the brain called Irisin that has protective qualities for the mind. Researchers have found ways to increase the levels of Irisin in the blood to activate genes involved in learning and memory. Another benefit of exercise is that resistance exercise can reset our body’s clocks. Exercising early in the day is the best cure for jet-lagged bodies, helping us to readjust to our new time zone. Exercise can reset circadian rhythms, which is especially helpful for late shift workers.

Never too late to start. (Courtesy Creative Commons)

Never too late to start. (From Creative Commons)

3. Brain Fatigue and the Body: Endurance is earned only after continuous, strenuous exercise, but it isn’t only the result of increased muscle strength. Fitness training increases mitochondria in the brain just like it does in the muscles – this plays a role in boosting endurance by making the brain less likely to tire, improving physical and athletic performance. This finding suggests that the brain boost could have major implications for mental disorders and the negative impacts of aging, making exercise a treatment for psychiatric and neurodegenerative diseases.

4. Preventing Cellular Suicide: A natural process of death of cells occurs within our body, known as apoptosis. This serves a great purpose in our body as a sort of clean-up effort – for instance when in the womb, we can thank this cellular suicide for ridding the webbing between our finger and toes. But, this process can also occur in healthy cells as a result of negative triggers, say for instance, radiation. Studies show, though, that after strenuous exercise, apoptosis is halted. This could potentially have an enormous impact on our survival and lifespans.

5. Light Exercise Can Do the Trick: Studies show that people don’t have to be marathon runners to keep their minds healthy. Regular, light activity can decrease cellular aging in the brain – moderately active brains have healthier DNA and more robust cells than their less active counterparts.

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Dr. Rajeev Kurapati is a board certified family physician practicing at St. Elizabeth Hospitals in Northern Kentucky. He is the author of the award-winning book “Unbound Intelligence,” released in January 2014. By uniting the theories of science, the nature of biology and the wisdom of spiritual traditions, Dr. Kurapati empowers readers to understand the complex workings of our mind and the role this plays in our journey to happiness. He lives in Cincinnati with his family.

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