Bursts of exercise may help boost metabolic health


New research has shown that short exercise bursts can greatly increase metabolite levels, which are markers of key physical health issues.

A lady Exercising

The report published in the Circulation journal, provides scientists with a deeper understanding of the beneficial effects exercise can have on the health of an individual.

Health and physical activity

For a long time, scientists have been aware that there is a link between physical activity and improved health. As the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states, “One of the most important things you can do for your health is regular physical activity.”

The CDC states that regular exercise will boost the brain health of a person; help them control their weight better; decrease their chances of developing different diseases, including diabetes, some cancers, and cardiovascular diseases; strengthen their bones and muscles; and improve mental health.

Although scientists are well aware of these links, the precise molecular mechanisms that help explain the relation between being physically active and maintaining better health are not completely understood.


The researchers decided to look at the relationship between metabolites that are health and exercise indicators in this context.

The metabolism of a person describes the chemical reactions in their body that take place. Metabolites either facilitate, or are the end result of these reactions. Relationships between exercise and some metabolite modifications have been identified by researchers.

“Dr. Gregory Lewis, Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) section head of Heart Failure and senior study author, says, “Much is known about the effects of exercise on the body’s cardiac, vascular, and inflammatory systems, but our study offers a detailed look at the metabolic influence of exercise by linking particular metabolic pathways to variables of exercise response and long-term recovery.

He continues:

“What was striking to us was the effects a brief bout of exercise can have on the circulating levels of metabolites that govern such key bodily functions as insulin resistance, oxidative stress, vascular reactivity, inflammation, and longevity.”

Burst of exercise

The Framingham Heart Study (FHS), a long-term study directed by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, was used by the researchers.

The researchers assessed 588 metabolites before and immediately after 12 minutes of physical activity on an exercise bike in 411 middle-aged individuals. This made it possible for them to see the impact exercise has on the metabolome.

Generally, the researchers found that 80 percent of the metabolites of a participant were substantially altered by the brief burst of exercise. They discovered in particular that metabolites associated with adverse health effects were decreased while resting.

High levels of glutamate, for example, have been related to diabetes, heart disease, and hypertension, and the researchers found that after exercise, these levels dropped by 29 percent. After exercise, levels of dimethylguanidine valerate (DMGV), which is associated with liver disease and diabetes, decreased by 18%.

Marker of fitness?

The researchers note that their results can be useful in helping doctors assess the fitness levels of an individual.

“Dr. Matthew Nayor, a cardiologist in the MGH Cardiology Division’s Heart Failure and Transplantation section explains, “Intriguingly, our study showed that different metabolites monitored different physiological responses to exercise, and could therefore provide specific bloodstream signatures that indicate whether a person is physically healthy, much the way current blood tests assess how well a person is.

He adds, “Lower levels of DMGV, for example, could signify higher levels of fitness.”

The researchers were also able to assess the longer-term effects of exercise on the metabolome of an organism by integrating the information they obtained from this study with blood samples collected during previous rounds of the FHS.

Dr. Ravi Shah of the MGH Cardiology Division’s Heart Failure and Transplantation section says, “We are beginning to better understand the molecular underpinnings of how exercise impacts the body and use that knowledge to understand the metabolic architecture around patterns of exercise response.”

He adds, “This strategy has the potential to target people in response to exercise who have high blood pressure or many other metabolic risk factors, and set them early in their lives on a healthier trajectory.”