This week marks the start of the annual eat-too-much and move-too-little holiday season, with its attendant declining health and surging regrets. But a well-timed new study suggests that a daily bout of exercise should erase or lessen many of the injurious effects, even if you otherwise lounge all day on the couch and load up on pie.
To undertake this valuable experiment, which was published online in The Journal of Physiology, scientists at the University of Bath in England rounded up a group of 26 healthy young men. All exercised regularly. None were obese. Baseline health assessments, including biopsies of fat tissue, confirmed that each had normal metabolisms and blood sugar control, with no symptoms of incipient diabetes.
The scientists then asked their volunteers to impair their laudable health by doing a lot of sitting and gorging themselves.
Energy surplus is the technical name for those occasions when people consume more energy, in the form of calories, than they burn. If unchecked, energy surplus contributes, as we all know, to a variety of poor health outcomes, including insulin resistance — often the first step toward diabetes — and other metabolic problems….The results were striking. After only a week, the young men who had not exercised displayed a significant and unhealthy decline in their blood sugar control, and, equally worrying, their biopsied fat cells seemed to have developed a malicious streak. Those cells, examined using sophisticated genetic testing techniques, were now overexpressing various genes that may contribute to unhealthy metabolic changes and underexpressing other genes potentially important for a well-functioning metabolism.
But the volunteers who had exercised once a day, despite comparable energy surpluses, were not similarly afflicted. Their blood sugar control remained robust, and their fat cells exhibited far fewer of the potentially undesirable alterations in gene expression than among the sedentary men.
“Exercise seemed to completely cancel out many of the changes induced by overfeeding and reduced activity,” said Dylan Thompson, a professor of health sciences at the University of Bath and senior author of the study. And where it did not countermand the impacts, he continued, it “softened” them, leaving the exercise group “better off than the nonexercise group,” despite engaging in equivalently insalubrious behavior.
See you on our walk today!