Metabolomics, physical activity, exercise and health: A review of the current evidence

Biochim Biophys Acta Mol Basis Dis. 2020 Dec 1;1866(12):165936. doi: 10.1016/j.bbadis.2020.165936. Epub 2020 Aug 19.


Physical activity (PA) and exercise are among the most important determinants of health. However, PA is a complex and heterogeneous behavior and the biological mechanisms through which it impacts individuals and populations in different ways are not well understood. Genetics and environment likely play pivotal roles but further work is needed to understand their relative contributions and how they may be mediated. Metabolomics offers a promising approach to explore these relationships. In this review, we provide a comprehensive appraisal of the PA-metabolomics literature to date. This overwhelmingly supports the hypothesis of a metabolomic response to PA, which can differ between groups and individuals. It also suggests a biological gradient in this response based on PA intensity, with some evidence for global longer-term changes in the metabolome of highly active individuals. However, many questions remain and we conclude by highlighting future critical research avenues to help elucidate the role of PA in the maintenance of health and the development of disease.

Keywords: Exercise; Health; Health promotion; Metabolomics; Physical activity; The Metabolome.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Exercise / physiology*
  • Health*
  • Humans
  • Metabolomics*