Breaking up sedentary behavior with short-frequent bouts of physical activity (PA) differentially influences metabolic health compared with the performance of a single-continuous bout of PA matched for total active time. However, the underlying mechanisms are unknown. We compared skeletal muscle mitochondrial respiration (high-resolution respirometry) and molecular adaptations (RNA sequencing) following 4-day exposure to breaks vs. energy-matched single-continuous PA bout in inactive adults with overweight/obesity. Participants (9M/10F, 32.2 ± 6.4 years, 30.3 ± 3.0 kg/m2) completed three 4-day interventions of a randomized cross-over study: SED, sedentary control; MICRO, 5 min brisk walking each hour for 9 h; ONE: 45 min/d continuous brisk walking bout. Fasted muscle biopsies were collected on day 5. Mitochondrial coupling in the presence of lipid-associated substrates was higher after ONE (4.8 ± 2.5) compared to MICRO (3.1 ± 1.1, p = 0.02) and SED (2.3 ± 1.0, p = 0.001). Respiratory rates did not differ across groups with carbohydrate-associated substrates. In pathways associated with muscle contraction transcription signaling, ONE and MICRO similarly enhanced Oxidative Phosphorylation and Sirtuin Signaling expression (p < 0.0001, for both). However, ONE (p < 0.001, for all), but not MICRO, had greater pathway enrichment, including Ca++, mTOR, AMPK, and HIF1α signaling, than SED. Although breaking up sedentary behavior triggered skeletal muscle molecular adaptations favoring oxidative capacity, it did not improve mitochondrial function over the short term.
Keywords: active breaks; mRNA sequencing; mitochondria; obesity; sedentary behavior; skeletal muscle molecular adaptations.