'Obesity Sleuths' Find Chronic Diseases Are Linked To A Breakdown Response To What Our Human DNA Is Expecting
July 15, 2002

BETHESDA, MD (American Physiological Society) -- The results of the most extensive research investigation into the relationship between chronic health conditions and physical inactivity have been released by a team of "obesity sleuths." They conclude that today's skyrocketing levels of chronic diseases are due to the collision between the body's total gene complement of a set of chromosomes, programmed 10,000 years ago to anticipate physical exertion, and the inactivity endemic to 21st century sedentary societies. Nutritional "thrifty genes" may further exacerbate the deterioration of the human body, which takes the form of common, chronic disorders, once thought to be rare.

The Study

The study entitled "Waging War on Physical Inactivity: Using Modern Molecular Ammunition Against an Ancient Enemy," is the latest report from the obesity research team of Frank W. Booth and Espen E. Spangenburg, both of the Departments of Biomedical Sciences and Physiology and the Dalton Cardiovascular Institute at the University of Missouri, Columbia, MO; Manu V. Chakravarthy, of the Department of Internal Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA; and Scott E. Gordon, of the Departments of Exercise and Sports Sciences and of Physiology and the Human Performance Laboratory, East Carolina University, Greenville, NC. Their study appears in the current edition of the Journal of Applied Physiology, a publication of the American Physiological Society.

The team set out to identify the underlying genetic and cellular/biochemical bases of why a sedentary lifestyle produces chronic health disorders. They support the hypothesis that humans have inherited a genome programmed for physical activity by selective forces from the Late Paleolithic era (10,000 years ago), when physical activity was necessary for survival. Another associated hypothesis that was examined in this research effort is that a lack of physical activity leads to failure of the maintenance of normal signaling by cellular networks that activate that genome. Since the normal orchestration of protein expression in cells in humans was selected during evolution, when physical activity was higher than today, an altered protein expression of cells from sedentary individuals is associated with a higher incidence of chronic conditions.

As part of their efforts, new conclusions have been reached on how physical inactivity affects at least 20 of the most chronic and deadly medical disorders. They suggest that all these conditions share common genetic inheritances that were supported by physical activity. When physical activity diminished, chronic health conditions occurred.

Needs for the Paleolithic Age

Daily physical activity was an integral, obligatory aspect of our ancestor's existence. The weekly activity pattern of hunter-gatherers of the Paleolithic Stone Age period (c. 8,000 B.C.) required several days of fairly intensive physical activity followed by days of rest and light activity. Men commonly hunted from one to four consecutive days each week while women gathered every two to three days. The physical labors involved in tool making, butchering, food preparation, carrying firewood and water, and moving to new campsites were supplemented by dances, often lasting hours, as a major recreational activity in many cultures.

(Lack of) Needs for 21st Century Americans

Twenty-first century Americans still possess late Paleolithic, pre-agricultural hunter-gatherer genes, and, perhaps nutritional "thrifty genes." Since our food abundant society makes physical activity no longer obligatory for survival, the sedentary lifestyle has emerged, disrupting the normal homeostatic mechanisms that have been programmed for the proper metabolic fluctuations necessary to maintain health. Physical inactivity interferes with the genome thus becoming an initiating factor in the molecular mechanisms of disease.

This assessment of chronic disorders addressed a wide range of maladies that affect a considerable number of Americans. Disorders were considered and conclusions were reached.

Highlights include:


Cardiovascular Diseases

Metabolic Diseases

Musculoskeletal Disorders


This effort clearly points out that a sedentary lifestyle leads to a breakdown in the body's biomedical system and a failure of genes leading to chronic disease. Now, the American public has a baseline of information of how to develop an optimum design for living that will contribute to a healthy lifestyle and to the avoidance of disorders caused by inactivity.

This research also suggests that the publicized searches for genes causing chronic illnesses are too limited. In addition, scientists should explore how selected "activity" genes are misexpressed as a result of a sedentary lifestyle. These findings challenge those engaged in using the human genome sequence to fight disease to recognize the "activity genes" that produce diseases when inactivity occurs. They repeat their call for Americans to participate in more physical activity to prevent the advent of a wide range of chronic disorders. (http://www.intelihealth.com/IH/ihtIH/WSIHW000/8096/8012/352518.html )