Background: Long-term physical inactivity seems to cause many health problems. We studied whether persistent physical activity compared with inactivity has a global effect on serum metabolome toward reduced cardiometabolic disease risk.
Methods and results: Sixteen same-sex twin pairs (mean age, 60 years) were selected from a cohort of twin pairs on the basis of their >30-year discordance for physical activity. Persistently (≥5 years) active and inactive groups in 3 population-based cohorts (mean ages, 31-52 years) were also studied (1037 age- and sex-matched pairs). Serum metabolome was quantified by nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. We used permutation analysis to estimate the significance of the multivariate effect combined across all metabolic measures; univariate effects were estimated by paired testing in twins and in matched pairs in the cohorts, and by meta-analysis over all substudies. Persistent physical activity was associated with the multivariate metabolic profile in the twins (P=0.003), and a similar pattern was observed in all 3 population cohorts with differing mean ages. Isoleucine, α1-acid glycoprotein, and glucose were lower in the physically active than in the inactive individuals (P<0.001 in meta-analysis); serum fatty acid composition was shifted toward a less saturated profile; and lipoprotein subclasses were shifted toward lower very-low-density lipoprotein (P<0.001) and higher large and very large high-density lipoprotein (P<0.001) particle concentrations. The findings persisted after adjustment for body mass index.
Conclusions: The numerous differences found between persistently physically active and inactive individuals in the circulating metabolome together indicate better metabolic health in the physically active than in inactive individuals.