Newsletter Article

The Effects of Physical Activity on a Cellular Level

April 2017

Many benefits of exercise are easy to see or feel – such as a change in weight or improvements in strength and muscle tone. However, there are also imperceptible changes that occur on the cellular level in the presence of physical activity. One such change is in the way our mitochondria function. You may remember that mitochondria are “the powerhouse of the cell” whose primary function is to provide the ATP, or energy, that the cell needs to function. Other important functions of mitochondria include the regulation of cellular membrane potential, apoptosis, and cellular metabolism.

A recent study compared the effects of weight training, high intensity interval training, and a combination of the two in young adult and elderly subjects.[1] To determine the molecular makeup of the subject’s cells, muscle biopsies were taken from the thigh at different points in time. The weight training group showed the most increases in muscle mass for both age groups, but the interval training showed the most benefit at the cellular level. The young adults in the high intensity interval training group showed a 49% increase in mitochondrial capacity, and the older group showed a 69% increase. This group also showed an increase in insulin sensitivity, which is important in reducing the risk for diabetes. Additionally, the study found evidence that exercise may encourage cells to make more RNA copies of genes coding for mitochondrial proteins and may increase the ribosome’s ability to make mitochondrial proteins.

When a muscle contracts, the muscle cells produce and release molecules called myokines.[2] These small proteins may play an important role for people who suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (RA), which is an autoimmune disease that causes joints to become inflamed and painful. RA often leads to a decrease in physical activity, which can in turn lead to other disabilities and chronic diseases. Exercising muscles will release myokines, which have been shown to induce anti-inflammatory responses after each exercise bout. Regular exercise over time may improve symptoms and help slow the progression of this disease.

There are many interactions that occur at the cellular level during and after exercise. There are a plethora of proven health benefits associated with physical activity, and scientists continue to discover these benefits, right down to our very cells!


The radish is a very nutritious, diverse, and often overlooked cruciferous vegetable. Radishes comes in many colors, ranging from the white winter daikon, to the deep red globe radish, to the black spanish radish.[3] The pungent taste of the radish comes from a compound called isothiocyanate and is more pronounced in the pigmented varieties.

Radishes are very low in calories and contain a variety of vitamins and minerals. Considered a powerful detoxifier, radishes help to purify blood by eliminating waste and toxins. They are also helpful in treating jaundice by removing bilirubin and helping to keep its production at a stable level. Radishes may also reduce the destruction of red blood cells by increasing the supply of oxygen to the blood.

One of the beneficial compounds in radishes are anthocyanins, which are antioxidants that give them their pigment. These compounds have been shown to reduce the occurrence of cardiovascular disease, and may also have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. Along with isothiocyanate, these compounds can alter the genetic pathways of cancer cells and lead to their death.

Like other cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli or cauliflower, radishes may contain goitrogens. These do not affect healthy people, but can cause swelling of the thyroid in people with thyroid dysfunction. Therefore, radishes should be avoided in people with that condition.

Different varieties of radishes can be found year-round. The root should been stout and firm in texture, without any cracks or cuts.[4] The greens on top should be crisp, without any shriveled or yellow leaves. The root is what is typically eaten, but the leaves can be used in salads or cooked as well. After purchasing, remove the top greens, as they are constantly taking nutrients from the root. Store in the refrigerator where they will remain fresh for up to a week.

Buttered Leeks and Radishes

1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp unsalted butter
3 scallions or spring onions, cut into 2-inch pieces
¼ pound radishes, quartered
3 leeks, white and light green parts only, cleaned and thinly sliced crosswise
½ cup chicken broth
¼ tsp kosher salt
1 tsp lemon juice
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped


Heat the oil and butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the scallions and cook until golden, about 3 minutes. Add the radishes and cook another minute. Remove the scallions and radishes from the pan and set aside. Add the leeks, chicken broth, salt, and lemon juice and cook, stirring occasionally, until the leeks are softened, about 5 minutes. Add the parsley, scallions, and radishes and toss well.

Recipe from

Yoga for Low Back Pain

Nearly everyone will experience low back pain at some point in their lives.[5] Common treatment for low back pain is medication and/or therapeutic exercises. Chronic low back pain (CLBP) is defined as lasting for more than three months, and it is often a generalized pain that can be difficult to diagnose.

A recent study compared a traditional CLBP exercise intervention with a yoga program that included lifestyle modifications.[6] The two groups were matched for total time exercising and counseling. Both groups showed decreased pain, reduced anxiety and depression, and increased spinal flexibility. However, the yoga group had significantly better scores in each category. Another study tested how often yoga needed to be performed to achieve benefits for those with CLBP.[7] During the 12 weeks study, subjects performed a 75 minute yoga class once/week or twice/week, as well as yoga exercises at home. Both groups experienced significant improvements in pain and function, but there were not any significant differences between the groups. Yoga is a popular activity for improving flexibility, strength, posture and reducing stress, and according to new research, it may also be a beneficial alternative to the traditional treatment for CLBP.

Health Matters is written by Lindsey Guthrie, MS, RD, LD/N and Tyler Guthrie, MS, CSCS.


  1. Science Daily. Cell Press. How exercise – interval training in particular – helps your mitochondria stave off old age.
  2. Benatti FB, Pedersen BK. Exercise as an anti-inflammatory therapy for rheumatic diseases – myokine regulation. Nature Reviews Rheumatology. 2015; 11(2): 86.
  5. Low back pain fact sheet. National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. 2013.
  6. Tekur P, Nagarathna R, Chametcha S, Hankey A, Nagendra HR. A comprehensive yoga programs improves pain, anxiety and depression in chronic low back pain patients more than exercise: An RCT. Complementary Therapies in Medicine. 2012. 20(3): 107
  7. Saper R, Boah A, Keosaian J, Weinberg J, Sherman K. The Yoga Dosing Study: comparing once vs. twice per week yoga classes for chronic low back pain in predominantly low income minority populations. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine. 2012. 12(1): 37.

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