If you’re dusting off your sneakers for the first time in years, it can feel like an eternity before those stubborn layers of fat start to melt away. But if slow progress is doing a number on your patience, take heart:
While those first steps may only deliver small changes on the scale, rest assured that there are big changes going on in your body from the moment you start to break a sweat.
In fact, you may be surprised to learn just how much immediate gratification you glean from even your earliest workouts—in the form of alterations that show up in your DNA after your very first hour at the gym.
Skinny Jeans Start With “Skinny” Genes
As part of a new study published in March 2012, scientists at Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute took muscle biopsies from eight healthy men with sedentary lifestyles, both before and after an hour of exercise. The goal was to assess the effect that strenuous activity might have on the genetic makeup of your body’s cells—and, as it turns out, the impact is not only significant, but fast, too.
DNA methylation is a biochemical process that influences gene expression, playing a critical role in cellular development and differentiation. In this case, the researchers discovered that a number of previously methylated genes involved in fat burning lost their methyl group following exercise—a change that triggered metabolic adaptations in the subjects’ muscle tissue.
One of these exercise-related adaptations is the enhanced ability to make proteins—including proteins that can help your body burn off its fat stores.
What Spin Class and Coffee Have In Common
The study authors believe that calcium is the cause of these practically instantaneous genetic modifications, as your muscles produce calcium during exercise. And, according to this study, caffeine exposure—which, like exercise, has a similar calcium-boosting effect on your muscles—also resulted in the DNA methylation that results in the production of fat-burning proteins.
Unfortunately, however, you can’t sip your way to a smaller jean size—caffeine intoxication would set in well before you reached the levels necessary to set your genes into fat-burning mode. Still, results suggest that these silent gene-activating DNA changes are some of the earliest and most critical events in your mission to get fit and burn fat.
Looking at it this way, your gym membership really is the gift that keeps on giving, with your body registering a payoff before you even hit the showers. And with every workout programming slimming signals into your genes on the most basic level, it’s only a matter of time before the numbers on your bathroom scale start to reflect the change.