The Impact of Exercise on Blood Biomarkers and InsideTracker’s New DNA Healthspan Report with Dr. Bartek Nogal

By Longevity by Design, February 22, 2024

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In this episode of Longevity by Design, Dr. Gil Blander and Ashley Reaver, MS, RD, CSSD, sit down with Dr. Bartek Nogal from InsideTracker to explore the cutting-edge intersections of exercise, genetics, blood biomarkers, health optimization, and longevity. Dr. Bartek Nogal, with a strong background in biological engineering and genomics, dives into how personalized health data can shape our understanding of aging and wellness. He discusses InsideTracker's new innovative approach to using DNA analysis for tailoring health interventions, emphasizing the importance of actionable guidance for optimizing blood biomarkers and extending healthspan and longevity.

Dr. Bartek Nogal shares compelling insights into the latest findings from InsideTracker's peer-reviewed published study on the effect of running on blood biomarkers and metabolic health, along with the influence of genetics—highlighting the power of exercise combined with the added value genetics provide for even greater personal health optimization. Dr. Nogal also discusses InsideTracker’s new innovative DNA healthspan report and the enhanced information and deeper insights it provides.  He stresses the importance of data-driven decision-making for health optimization, illustrating how genetic predispositions can inform personalized health and wellness strategies. 

The conversation is a deep dive into how technology bridges the gap between scientific research and everyday health practices, offering listeners a roadmap to a longer, healthier life. Listeners will leave with a clear understanding of the power of exercise on blood biomarkers and genomics for personal health and practical tips for leveraging their genetic information to make even better-informed lifestyle choices. This episode is a testament to the evolving landscape of health and science, where the fusion of data, technology, and personalized insights paves the way for a future of optimized health and longevity.



Episode highlights

  • Introduction: 00:00-02:32
  • What led Dr. Bartek Nogal to become a scientist: 02:33-03:27
  • Dr. Bartek Nogal’s career at InsideTracker: 03:28-04:02
  • InsideTracker’s peer-reviewed published study: Dose response of running on blood biomarkers of wellness in generally healthy individuals ( 04:03-06:46
  • What is principal component analysis (PCA), and what were the findings using PCA?: 06:47-07:56
  • What is the effect of running blood biomarkers? What is the effect of the amount of running on blood biomarkers?: 07:57-09:27
  • What was the effect of running on BMI (body mass index)?: 09:28-10:44
  • What is Mendelian randomization, and what is the relationship of genetics with exercise and blood biomarkers?: 10:45-12:40
  • What is the influence of genes on the relationship between exercise and diet?: 12:41-13:33
  • What are the strengths of Mendelian randomization for understanding the influence of genetics?: 13:34-17:05
  • What were the key findings from InsideTracker’s study on the effect of running on blood biomarkers?: 17:06-18:56
  • What is InsideTracker’s new DNA report? What was the motivation for developing this new DNA healthspan report?: 18:57-20:31
  • What additional information and insights does InsideTracker’s new DNA report and scores provide?: 20:32-28:41
  • How much do genes or lifestyle influence blood biomarkers and risk of developing diseases?:  28:42-32:24
  • How to use InsideTracker’s new DNA and healthspan scores to optimize blood biomarkers and health: 32:25-34:28
  • What is the future of genetics research?: 34:29-36:36
  • What is the future of genetic testing at InsideTracker?: 36:37-38:19
  • Dr. Bartek Nogal’s top tip for improving health: 38:20-39:49

About Dr. Bartek Nogal

Dr. Bartek Nogal obtained his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Biological Engineering from Cornell University. After completing his Master's degree, Dr. Nogal worked in the biotech industry for nine years as a process development engineer. He also obtained a PhD in Structural and Computational Biology from Scripps Research.

During his doctoral studies, Bartek employed a biophysical approach utilizing cryo-electron microscopy to understand the mysteries of neutralizing antibody responses to HIV vaccine immunogens. His research resulted in numerous peer-reviewed publications, including contributions to the journal Cell. Furthermore, his doctoral thesis work received recognition and made the cover of the 2020 March issue of Cell Reports.

Dr. Bartek Nogal initially joined the InsideTracker team in 2015 as a Genomics Consultant and now leads the Genomics team at InsideTracker.


The impact of running on blood biomarkers

Dr. Nogal discussed a recently published peer-reviewed scientific study he and colleagues at InsideTracker authored on the effects of running on blood biomarkers [1]. The team analyzed blood biomarker data from over 23,000 InsideTracker users, who also provided self-reported data on their running habits compared to over 4,000 generally healthy, sedentary InsideTracker users. Even in this population of generally healthy individuals, the findings showed that exercise positively impacts important biomarkers related to inflammation, lipids, and muscle damage in a dose-response manner: more exercise = better biomarkers. 

Specifically, those who ran more had more optimal blood biomarkers like LDL-cholesterol, HDL-cholesterol, triglycerides, and inflammatory markers like hsCRP. This research highlights the power of exercise to iteratively optimize health, even in people who are generally healthy without any major clinical issues. Overall, the research underscores how powerful exercise can be as a lever for optimizing metabolic health.

“I always say that the most interesting finding is that despite this being, like I say, an ostensibly healthy population with no clinical issues, doing increasing levels of exercise does iteratively optimize blood biomarkers to a degree that's detectable in this population,” says Dr. Nogal.


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What is principal component analysis (PCA)? Why was PCA used in this study, and what was found?

Dr. Nogal explains that PCA is a statistical method for identifying variables that most strongly influence an outcome. In this study, PCA was used to try and identify what was driving the differences between exercisers and non-exercisers. This approach yielded a modest degree of separation, with hematological, inflammation, and lipid biomarkers, as well as BMI, explaining some of the variance between exercisers and non-exercisers.


What is Mendelian randomization?

Mendelian randomization (MR) is a method using measured variation in genes to examine the causal effect of an exposure on an outcome. Dr. Nogal explains that MR is a method of running a simulated clinical trial using genomics data. When we are born, we inherit our genes from our parents, which influence traits such as how we look, and some of these genes may predispose people to things such as having a higher BMI or certain diseases. 

Dr. Nogal explains that by combining multiple datasets from large sample sizes of people, MR can be used to see how BMI might be driving blood biomarkers, for example. This can also be done for exercise. “Believe it or not, we are born with some propensity to exercise more or less. We can then use a data set for the level of exercise propensity for people and see how much that contributes to blood biomarkers”, he says.

“Mendelian randomization is essentially nature's own randomized controlled trial that speaks to the ability of genes to prevent or to have a predisposition to certain traits like blood biomarkers or any modifiable exposure that you can think of.” 


InsideTracker's new innovative DNA healthspan report 

Dr. Nogal introduced and discussed InsideTracker's new innovative DNA report focused on healthspan. This report enhances the existing DNA report by providing more granular insights into a user's genetic predispositions. While the current DNA report categorizes users into groups of low, average, or elevated predisposition for each trait, this new report shows users their exact percentile ranking. This allows users to determine if they are borderline elevated for a particular trait, even if the general classification only shows average risk. 

The 10 new healthspan-focused genetic scores are: 

  • ApoB: an essential indicator of heart health.
  • Grip strength: often an early warning sign of several chronic conditions that affect aging and life expectancy.
  • Cognitive aging: your risk of experiencing accelerated cognitive decline.
  • Epigenetic age acceleration: the risk of your body aging faster than your chronological age.
  • Lifespan: your genetic potential to live a longer life.
  • Menopausal age: your genetic risk for experiencing menopause at an earlier age.
  • Age-related muscle weakness: your genetic tendency for loss of muscle strength in old age.
  • Visceral fat: your genetic risk for harmful body fat that negatively affects healthspan.
  • Morningness (chronotype): associated with better behavioral patterns and an improved metabolism—both of which can benefit healthspan.
  • Bone mineral density: a genetic indicator of potential bone strength.

"These new genetic insights are complex and are mostly modifiable predispositions. Because these are mostly modifiable predispositions, this means that even if you have an elevated genetic predisposition for a healthspan-related trait, it does not mean that you will develop this trait because lifestyle is highly influential. For example, let's say someone already exercises very often and their predisposition to age-related muscle weakness is low, but they have an elevated predisposition for accelerated cognitive aging. In this scenario, instead of additional workouts, they might be recommended to focus more on sleep and social engagement. Others may find out that they have an elevated predisposition for visceral fat and be recommended to focus on aerobic exercise and dietary modifications. With the combination of these genomic insights and blood biomarker data, our users can be provided with individually tailored information and recommendations to optimize their health."


What is the future of genetic testing?

Looking forward, Dr. Nogal highlighted advances on the horizon for genetic testing and analysis. He emphasizes the need and importance of diversifying data sets: ”Traditionally, a lot of work has been done using the most readily available data sets, and that's from people of European ancestries. Diversifying datasets will help improve both discovery and identify new variants in different populations because there's an issue with the portability or transferability of some of the findings to populations that are not necessarily represented by the original studies.”

Another key area is utilizing whole genome sequencing to identify rare genetic variants that may have large effects but are missed in current genotyping technology. As the diversity of databases and technology improves, genetic insights will become increasingly precise and predictive.


What is the future of genetic testing at InsideTracker?

“More and better!” states Dr. Nogal. InsideTracker has a lot of exciting work in the pipeline, including plans to provide more scores related to athletic and injury risks. These scores indicate if a person has a predisposition to things like hypertrophy or rotator cuff injury. This information can be used to help people tailor their exercise habits and what they should focus on to optimize health and performance and decrease the risk of an injury. As the data and analytical techniques improve, genetic insights will become increasingly precise and actionable.


Top tip for healthspan

Dr. Nogal emphasizes the importance of measuring and tracking variables such as blood biomarkers, DNA, fitness data, sleep, etc., to live healthier longer: “measure and track as many biomarkers as possible and do a test to know your genetics, then leverage tools like InsideTracker to help with the difficulty of trying to figure out what to prioritize. Because at InsideTracker, that’s what we do best, taking a large amount of multidimensional data combined with your personal demographics to provide you with the highest impact and most efficient ways to help you achieve your goals and optimize your health. Identifying and focusing on the highest impact areas while making use of the latest science can help optimize your healthspan.”

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Longevity by Design

Longevity by Design is a podcast for individuals looking to experience longer, healthier lives. In each episode, Dr. Gil Blander and Ashley Reaver join an industry expert to explore a personalized health journey. The show helps you access science-backed information, unpack complicated concepts, learn what’s on the cutting edge of longevity research and the scientists behind them. Tune into Longevity by Design and see how to add years to your life, and life to your years.

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