Everyone knows that physical activity is good for your health, but we’re far from understanding all the details of how exercise improves the function of the cells and organs of the body. To make up for this gap in knowledge, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) has funded a nationwide consortium that aims to construct a molecular map of the changes caused by exercise. Bret Goodpaster, Ph.D., professor at Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute (SBP), and director of the Exercise and Metabolism Core at the Translational Research Institute for Metabolism and Diabetes (TRI-MD) at Florida Hospital, will co-lead one of the seven clinical centers involved in the consortium, called Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity, or MoTrPAC.
“This is a huge undertaking that’s guaranteed to advance our insight into how physical activity improves and preserves health,” says Goodpaster. “It’s great that the NIH is making this a priority. Along with research on how diseases develop, there should be just as much work looking at the other side—prevention.”
To build the molecular map, clinical investigators will recruit thousands of active and sedentary volunteers with a range of fitness levels and body compositions, who will perform resistance and aerobic exercises. Biological samples will be collected before and after physical activity, allowing scientists to analyze changes in thousands of molecules.
“We know from epidemiology that exercise has a myriad of health benefits—from diabetes and cardiovascular disease prevention to mitigating cancer and Alzheimer’s disease risk, but those kinds of studies provide limited information,” adds Goodpaster. “To really draw conclusions about cause and effect, we have to do experiments in humans, and that requires a large number of study participants because people are so diverse. This investment is exactly what we need, especially now that sequencing and ‘omics’ technologies can be used efficiently on a big scale.”