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Does Physical Activity Prevent Disease?

Created Jul 27 2015, 08:00 PM by Lippincott Solutions
  • preventing disease
  • exercise
  • improved health
  • improving health
  • National Institute of Health
  • disease prevention
  • NIH
  • physical activity
  • prevention

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

We have all heard in some fashion or another that lifestyle plays a big role in our overall health. Eating a healthy and balanced diet, exercising regularly, avoiding tobacco use, limiting alcohol consumption, getting a good night’s sleep – all of these behaviors contribute to a healthy lifestyle and can improve our odds of preventing some of the worst chronic health problems that Americans face as they age. But, what specific role does physical activity play in this mix? 

And, can physical activity alone have an impact on our overall health and chances for disease prevention?  The National Institutes of Health (NIH) wants to know how exercise affects the human body and has launched a program to study the biological molecules affected by physical activity.

The $170 million program, called Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity in Humans, is the largest NIH study yet that explores the mechanism of physical activity’s effect on improved health and disease prevention. Launched by the NIH Common Fund, the five-year nationwide study will “lay the foundation for our understanding of how physical activity affects the human body, and ultimately, advance our understanding of how activity improves and preserves health,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, MD, PhD. “Armed with this knowledge, researchers and clinicians may one day be able to define optimal physical activity recommendations for people at various stages of life, as well as develop precisely targeted regimens for individuals with particular health needs.”

The NIH Common Fund was enacted into law by Congress through the 2006 NIH Reform Act to support cross-cutting, trans-NIH programs that require participation by at least two NIH Institutes or Centers (ICs) or would otherwise benefit from strategic planning and coordination. In addition, each Common Fund program must have several key characteristics:

  • ​Transformative: Must have high potential to dramatically affect biomedical and/or behavioral research over the next decade
  • Catalytic: Must achieve a defined set of high impact goals within a defined period of time
  • Synergistic: Outcomes must synergistically promote and advance individual missions of NIH Institutes and Centers to benefit health
  • Cross-cutting: Program areas must cut across missions of multiple NIH Institutes and Centers, be relevant to multiple diseases or conditions, and be sufficiently complex to require a coordinated, trans-NIH approach
  • Unique: Must be something no other entity is likely or able to do


The Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity in Humans program will be implemented through:

• Clinical sites that will implement physical activity protocols, perform physiological and metabolic assessments of participants, and collect appropriate data and bio-specimens;

• Chemical analysis sites that will characterize human and animal tissues using high-throughput discovery approaches with appropriate quality controls and perform initial statistical analyses of datasets;

• Animal studies which will help identify target tissues for signaling molecules, and help delineate their function in mediating the effects of physical activity; and

• A data management and coordinating center that will oversee projects, store and analyze data, and coordinate the distribution of specimens.

As male and female participants of varying ages, fitness levels, races and ethnicity engage in various kinds of physical activity, researchers will identify the biological molecules that change in response to the exercises. Also, researchers will conduct similar, complementary studies on animals. The animal studies are intended to help provide information on critical tissues affected by exercise that are not easily studied in humans, including the lung, liver, brain, kidney and heart.

“The knowledge generated through this program will inform studies of almost every organ and tissue in the human body, and will provide a critical resource for large numbers of researchers investigating the effects of physical activity in humans,” said James M. Anderson, MD, PhD, director of the NIH Division of Program Coordination, Planning, and Strategic Initiatives, which houses the Common Fund.

Is your facility participating in the Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity in Humans program?  What types of data do you think the study will reveal in the next five years?  Tell us your thoughts in the comments below.  Click here for more information: Molecular Transducers of Physical Activity in Humans