Epigenetics refers to changes in the genome or genes, that do not involve changes in the nucleotide sequence, or mutations.
Our date of birth, or “chronological age” is not always the best index of our ageing process. Some markers have been proposed to define a “biological age” or “epigenetic age”, where the status of our body organs can be evaluated.
The importance of physical activity is such, that it modulates genes expression through epigenetic changes to lower our “epigenetic age”. Thus, biological ageing can be controlled with the right combination of lifestyle factors: exercise, nutrition and healthy habits.
Physical activity is known to have multiple beneficial effects on health, acting as a modulator of risk factors towards various diseases, and usually leading to a longer and healthier lifespan.
WHO estimates that physical inactivity is the fourth leading factor to global mortality, causing 3.2 million deaths every year. Current guidelines indicate that healthy adults should do at least 150 min of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity every week.
Adaptations to exercise are:
- increase in skeletal muscle size.
- increase in muscle oxidative capacity by genesis of mitochondria.
- improvement of cardiovascular system physiology and vessels health.
Body mass index, or BMI, has been correlated with increased age acceleration. Thus, physical activity as a tool of weight control, might be a key factor in slowing age acceleration by providing long-lasting effects on health.
The physiological products of exercise are the free radicals. Regular moderate exercise is beneficial because while it elevates free radical production, at the same time it also activates the endogenous antioxidant defence systems. But there is a measure for everything. If the exercise is too strenuous, oxidative stress and cell damage could exceed its beneficial effects.
Nutrition also plays an important role in controlling biological age. What we eat supports our skeletal muscles and the mechanisms that trigger the effects of physical activity.
Consequently, there is a crosstalk between physical activity and nutrition. Components in the food can alter our genetic imprint and improve physical performance and health. That is the origin of the term “nutri(epi)genomics”.
Thus, a balanced diet should provide enough macronutrients:
- Proteins: constituents of muscles and tendons, and important functions as enzymes, hormones, and neurotransmitters
- Carbohydrates: major energy source of the central nervous system and muscles.
- Fats: responsible of cell membrane structure, absorption of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, K), brain health, hormone production and energy source for muscle metabolism.
But also include enough micronutrients: vitamins and minerals.
The diet of choice should include a variety of foods of natural origin over highly processed foods. The Mediterranean diet could be a good choice, preferred over other Western style diets, linked to hypertension, heart disease, diabetes and increased risk of cancer. These outcomes are probably related to epigenetic alterations. Mediterranean diet would provide better results in terms of exercise performance and the recovery process. Obviously, diet should be balanced according to the goals and nutritional requirements of every sport modality.
On the other hand, fasting and caloric restriction, without malnutrition, have been proved to increase lifespan. These positive effects seem to be mediated by reduced oxidative stress, increased DNA repair and inhibition of critical inflammatory genes, among other factors.
A healthy diet in combination with proper physical activity levels, could be extremely helpful in delaying the ageing process.
It is never too late to change your routines and stop, or even reverse, the deleterious epigenetic changes associated with ageing.
The Role of Nutri(epi)genomics in Achieving the Body’s Full Potential in Physical Activity. Petracci I, Gabbianelli R, Bordoni L. Antioxidants (Basel). 2020;9(6):498. Published 2020 Jun 7. doi:10.3390/antiox9060498