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Why You Need to Exercise Early in Life

Time to thank your parents for forcing you to sign up for a sport.

Exercise is good for you, whether you start when you’re six years old or sixty. But according to a new study from the Liggins Institute at the University of Auckland in New Zealand, exercising early in life may be associated with certain health benefits—even if exercise doesn’t continue into adulthood.

Led by molecular geneticist Dr. Justin O’Sullivan, a team of researchers used rat models to investigate how diet and exercise might affect bone health and metabolism.

One group of rats was fed a high-fat diet and placed in a cage with a wheel. A second group was fed a high-fat diet and placed in a cage without a wheel, while a third group was placed in a cage without a wheel but fed a normal diet.

The researchers found that among the high-fat-diet-and-exercise rats, early physical activity curtailed the activity of genes known to be associated with inflammation.

Inflammation is a normal biological process which helps to protect the body from infection and injury. When you hurt yourself, inflammation is what allows your body to heal. But sometimes, inflammatory processes are triggered and don’t turn off.

When this mild inflammation becomes constant, it can harm the body and increase your risk of common health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancer. Eating a high-fat diet early in life is known to contribute to inflammation. This study suggests that exercise might lessen that risk.

The researchers also found that among high-fat-diet rats, food energy was metabolized differently in the bones compared to high-fat-diet rats who didn’t exercise. Interestingly, these changes persisted over time—even when the high-fat-diet rats stopped exercising as adults.

O’Sullivan calls this phenomenon “bone memory.” His is the first study to show that exercise can have a lasting—and perhaps permanent—effect on the body.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that if you exercised as a kid, you should abandon exercise and gorge on fatty foods—the rats that did that still put on weight. However, the researchers did note that the high-fat-diet rats who had exercised didn’t have the same cluster of negative effects commonly associated with high-fat diets.

O’Sullivan believes this finding might help explain why certain people who are obese don’t develop diabetes, despite the strong link between obesity and diabetes.

Of course, the researcher is further proof that kids need exercise—in case you needed more.

[Image via Shutterstock]

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