School of Health and Life Sciences

Exercise and genes

The Personalized Exercise Prescription Team investigates the impact of acute and chronic exercise on genetic expression and configuration related to cardio-vascular health.

A major research focus of the Personalized Exercise Prescription Team (PEP) is on the impact of exercise training on the epigenome, non-coding RNA and telomere regulation. The epigenome represents the microscopic structures that surround DNA and they act as switches to turn gene expression on and off – consequently the epigenome has a profound influence on protein synthesis in the human body. Epigenetics has gained immense global scientific interest, as it appears the parent's epigenome is affected by the physical and social environment and these changes can be inherited by their children - which can ultimately affect their health. Our research to date has shown exercise training alters white blood cell and sperm epigenome and specific micro and long non coding RNA. Our other major focus is on telomere regulation. Telomeres cap the end of chromosomes to protect the DNA (akin to the aglets of shoelaces). Aging appears to be a consequence of telomeres shortening and the rate of shortening is impacted by the external and social environment. Our research has shown exercise training protects telomere length by up-regulating the genes that maintain telomere integrity. We are presently funded by EpiFit ® to determine if EpiKit® can be predict non- and hyper-responders to endurance and resistance exercise and its potential to optimize exercise prescription for individuals.


Dr Brendan O'Brien

Professor Fergal Grace

Professor Fadi Charchar

Dr Warrick Chilton

Dr Priscilla Prestes


  1. Chilton W, O’Brien BJ & Charchar, F.J. (2017). Telomeres, exercise and cardiovascular disease: finding the means to justify the ends. Acta Physiologica. 220 (2), 186-188
  2. Denham J, Marques FZ, Bruns, EL, O'Brien BJ & Charchar FJ. (2016). Epigenetic changes in leukocytes after eight weeks of resistance exercise training European Journal of Applied Physiology. 116(6), 1245-1253.
  3. Denham J, Brown NJ, O'Brien BJ & Charchar FJ. (2016). Aortic augmentation index in endurance athletes: a role for cardiorespiratory fitness. European Journal of Applied Physiology. 116 (8), 1537-1544.
  4. Denham J, O'Brien BJ, Prestes PR, Brown NJ & Charchar FJ. (2016). Increased expression of telomere-regulating genes in endurance athletes with long telomeres. Journal of Applied Physiology 120(2), 148-158.
  5. Denham J, O'Brien BJ & Charchar FJ. (2016). Telomere Length Maintenance and Cardio-Metabolic Disease Prevention Through Exercise Training. Sports Medicine 46 (9), 1213-1237.
  6. Denham J, O’Brien BJ, Marques FZ & Charchar FJ.  (2015).Changes in the Leukocyte Methylome and its Effect on Cardiovascular Related Genes after Exercise. Journal of Applied Physiology 15 (118), 475-488.
  7. Denham J, Feros SA & O’Brien BJ. (2015). Four Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves 5km Run Performance.  Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. 29(8):2137-2141
  8. Denham J, O'Brien BJ, Harvey JT & Charchar FJ. (2015). Genome-wide sperm DNA methylation changes after 3 months of exercise training in humans. Epigenomics 13, 1-15.
  9. Denham J, O’Brien BJ, Marques FZ & Charchar FJ.  (2014). Exercise: Putting action into our epigenome. Sports Medicine 44, 189-209.
  10. Chilton WL, Marques FZ, West J, Kannourakis G, Berzins SP, O’Brien BJ & Charchar FJ. (2014). Acute Exercise Leads to Regulation of Telomere-Associated Genes and MicroRNA Expression in Immune Cells PloS one, 9(4), e92088.
  11. Denham J, Nelson CP, O’Brien BJ, Nankervis SA, Denniff M, Harvey JT, Marques FZ. Codd V, Zukowska-Szczechowska E, Samani NJ, Tomaszewski M & Charchar FJ. (2013). Longer Leukocyte Telomeres Are Associated with Ultra-Endurance Exercise Independent of Cardiovascular Risk Factors PloS one, 8(7), e69377.

Referred Conference Abstracts

  1. Prestes PR, O’Brien BJ, Charchar FJ. (2017). Can Long-Term Endurance Exercise Change MicroRNA Profiles and Prevent Cardiovascular Disease?  Circulation 134 (Suppl 1), A20716-A20716.
  2. Denham J, Brown NJ, Tomaszewski M, O’Brien BJ, Charchar FJ. (2015). Aortic Pulse wave reflections and central blood pressure in endurance-trained athletes: a role for cardio-respiratory fitness. Journal of Hypertension 33, e278.
  3. Denham J, O’Brien BJ, Marques FZ & Charchar FJ (2015). Leukocyte Epigenetic Changes After Four Weeks Of Sprint Interval Training (SIT). Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise 47 (5S), 875.
  4. Chilton WL, Marques FZ, O'Brien BJ & Charchar F (2014). The Acute Effects of Cardiorespiratory Exercise on Telomere-Associated Genes and MicroRNA Expression in Immune Cell Subsets. International Journal of Exercise Science: Conference Proceedings 10 (1), 42.
  5. Chilton W, Marques FZ, O’Brien B & Charchar F. (2012). The Acute Effects of Intense Cardiorespiratory Exercise on Human Telomerase Reverse Transcriptase and Sirtuin 6 Expression in White Blood Cells Journal of Hypertension 30, e49.
  6. Denham J, Nankervis SA, Debiec R, Harvey JT, Pascoe DA, Marques FC, O’Brien BJ, Codd V, Zukowska-Szczechowska E, Samani NJ, Tomaszewski M & Charchar FJ. Telomere Attrition Is Attenuated in Ultra-Marathon Runners. (2012). Journal of Hypertension 30, e37.