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Exercise: the way to a healthier European society?

Wed, 03/03/2010 - 7:23am
European Commission

Evald Bank is a retired Danish farmer in his sixties. Five years ago he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and is currently taking part in a two-year program to help determine whether regular exercise can slow down the development of cancer. While exercising at home, Evald is obliged to check-ups every six months for the collection of health data such as body fat.

Researchers have carried out tests with hundreds of volunteers, both sick and healthy. The results show that the body activates various genes when muscles are contracted while exercising. The muscle also introduces substances into the bloodstream. These can have an effect on the liver, fat, the brain and possibly the cancer. The researchers are identifying and modelling such substances. According to the project coordinator, molecular biologist Grahame Hardie from the United Kingdom, they have identified a particular protein that plays an significant role in triggering positive effects during exercise.

In Copenhagen, the pathophysiologist Allan Vaag is investigating how physical inactivity influences type-2 diabetes. The highest rate of the disease is found among people who remain inactive for most of the day (for example, truck or taxi drivers). Vaag ran tests, having healthy volunteers remain nine days in bed, followed by several weeks of regular exercise. The physical inactivity leads to changes in glucose metabolism, fat metabolism, gene functions and other in vivo functions. These tests showed a direct correlation between the length of physical inactivity and the body's susceptibility to type-2 diabetes and similar diseases.

Genetic studies done in southern Sweden, led by Finnish endocrinologist Leif Groop, found about 20 genes that are prone to type-2 diabetes. Furthermore, they could determine how regular exercise can influence some of these genes. Leif Groop now aims to identify ways of increasing the positive effects of exercise. In this manner, regular exercise could be made more effective in use against cancer or type-2 diabetes. According to Groop, 10% of all Europeans will have diabetes in the near future. It is, therefore, imperative that diabetes can be better prevented, since most countries will not be able to fund the treatment of so many patients.

Exercise is not the cure for sufferers of cancer and diabetes, but it could prove to be very important in the prevention and treatment of these diseases. European scientists hope to determine how this can be best achieved.

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