Exercise training and DNA methylation in humans

Acta Physiol (Oxf). 2015 Jan;213(1):39-59. doi: 10.1111/apha.12414. Epub 2014 Nov 19.


The response to exercise training (trainability) has been shown to have a strong heritable component. There is growing evidence suggesting that traits such as trainability do not only depend on the genetic code, but also on epigenetic signals. Epigenetic signals play an important role in the modulation of gene expression, through mechanisms such as DNA methylation and histone modifications. There is an emerging evidence to show that physical activity influences DNA methylation in humans. The present review aims to summarize current knowledge on the link between DNA methylation and physical activity in humans. We have critically reviewed the literature and only papers focused on physical activity and its influence on DNA methylation status were included; a total of 25 papers were selected. We concluded that both acute and chronic exercises significantly impact DNA methylation, in a highly tissue- and gene-specific manner. This review also provides insights into the molecular mechanisms of exercise-induced DNA methylation changes, and recommendations for future research.

Keywords: DNA methylation; epigenetics; exercise; sport; training.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • DNA Methylation / physiology*
  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Exercise Therapy*
  • Gene Expression / physiology*
  • Gene Expression Regulation / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Phenotype