Exercise Benefits Metabolism More Than We Realized, Study Finds

SYDNEY — People with a fast metabolism seem to be capable of eating large amounts of just about whatever they want without gaining weight. For the rest of us with normal or slow metabolisms, losing or maintaining weight isn’t nearly as easy. It’s been universally assumed that no amount of exercise will drastically change one’s metabolism, but a new study suggests that the effects of exercise on metabolism are much greater than originally thought. Exercise may boost one’s metabolism after all.

This new research is the first ever to investigate the influence of exercise on the metabolism while controlling for other personal factors like diet, age, gender, alcohol & smoking habits, work environment, stress, and sleep schedule.

“These results show that metabolic adaptation to exercise is far more profound than previously reported,” comments senior author Dr. John F. O’Sullivan of the University of Sydney, Australia, in a release. “The results increase our knowledge of the widespread benefits of exercise on metabolism and reveal for the first time the true magnitude of these effects. This reinforces the mandate for exercise as a critical part of programs to prevent cardiovascular disease.”

In the past, it’s been a major challenge to study the relationship between one’s exercise habits and metabolic functioning while accounting for the aforementioned individual factors. Mainly because no two people are exactly the same in terms of genetic background, lifestyle, etc.

“Our motivation for this study was to overcome this limitation by studying exercise under controlled conditions, thereby revealing the true extent of effects on the body,” Dr. O’Sullivan adds. “Therefore, we used a cohort of newly-enlisted healthy male soldiers of similar age and baseline fitness who lived in the same domicile, had the same sleep patterns, ate the same food, and underwent the same exercise regimen.”

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For this project, roughly 200 blood metabolites were measured from 52 soldiers both before and after an 80-day aerobic and strength exercise regiment. Those measurements were related directly to the changes in the soldiers’ exercise habits.

Significant changes in many metabolites were noted after the exercise program. Trained, more energy-efficient muscle burned much more fuel (fat) than before the training regimen. Additionally, more drastic changes in a variety of other factors were seen for the first time ever. Such changes involved the gut, blood clotting activities, the breakdown of protein, and an increased ability among blood vessels to open and facilitate increased blood flow.

Some soldiers, however, did not seem to gain the same metabolic benefits as their peers. These participants showed higher levels of a metabolite called DMGV.

“This is intriguing because a recent study also found that this metabolite predicted who did not benefit from exercise,” Dr. O’Sullivan says. “DMGV levels are influenced by genetics and diet, rising with sugary drinks and falling with vegetables and fibre. Measuring DMGV may identify people who need strategies other than exercise to reduce their cardiovascular risk.”

“The power of exercise to boost metabolism is on top of its positive effects on blood pressure, heart rate, fitness, body fat, and body weight. Our findings cement the central role of exercise in preventing cardiovascular disease,” he concludes.

The study is published in Cardiovascular Research.

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