Why Does Exercise Make Some People Healthier than Others?

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The Answers May Lie in How the Power Plants of Your Cells React to Physical Activity
Released: Friday, December 11, 2020

BATON ROUGE, Louisiana – Why do some people benefit so much from exercise while others enjoy few health gains or even suffer harm? Does age matter when it comes to exercise’s health benefits? Are there “molecular signatures” – sets of genes, proteins and other variables ­– that reveal the answers?

Researchers at Pennington Biomedical Research Center plan to answer these and related questions with a new $2.5 million award from the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute on Aging.

“Exercising usually leads to many health benefits. For example, exercise can help offset the declines in cardiorespiratory fitness, physical functioning and cardiometabolic health that come with aging,” said Owen Carmichael, Ph.D., Professor and Director, Biomedical Imaging at Pennington Biomedical. “This is at least partly because physical activity improves the performance of mitochondria, the power plants of the cell, in skeletal muscle. But the change in mitochondria can be extremely different from person to person, and the reasons for the variation remain unclear.”

The four-year study will compare mitochondria responses between younger and older adults who undergo exercise training. Dr. Carmichael expects to identify molecular factors that promote or discourage a positive mitochondrial change.

Dr. Carmichael expects the study to shed light on several theories, including that:

  • Exercise will not improve mitochondrial function for a certain portion of the population.
  • Age will not limit the mitochondrial response to exercise.
  • Aerobic training will provide more mitochondrial capacity improvements than resistance training, regardless of age.

Pennington Biomedical Executive Director John Kirwan, Ph.D., said a better understanding of the biology behind the benefits of exercise will advance personalized medicine.

“In the long term, we believe the study’s findings will help physicians use each individual’s unique biological characteristics to precisely tailor exercise training for that person. In effect, physicians will be able to prescribe an exercise regimen that maximizes the health benefits for each individual patient,” Dr. Kirwan said.

The study, named MoTrMito, will involve around 375 participants, and Pennington Biomedical plans to begin recruiting volunteers in the spring of 2021. Go to www.pbrc.edu/clinical-trials/#studylist for updates. You can also sign up for our weekly clinical trials newsletter here https://www.pbrc.edu/clinical-trials/subscribe/ for first notification when the trial opens to volunteers.

This research is supported by the National Institute of Aging of the National Institutes of Health under award number 1R01AG069476-01. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.


About LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center

LSU's Pennington Biomedical Research Center is at the forefront of medical discovery as it relates to understanding the triggers of obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer and dementia. The center conducts basic, clinical and population research, and is affiliated with Louisiana State University. The research enterprise at Pennington Biomedical includes over 450 employees within a network of 40 clinics and research laboratories, and 13 highly specialized core service facilities. Its scientists and physician/scientists are supported by research trainees, lab technicians, nurses, dietitians and other support personnel. Pennington Biomedical is located in state-of-the-art research facilities on a 222-acre campus in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.