It's that time of year when the whole world makes a New Year's resolution to get back in shape. Hence, new research shows just how much a workout will change your metabolism, and the results are surprising. Let's dig in.
What Are Melanocortins?
Melanocortins are hormones released by neurons (nerve cells) in the hypothalamus of the brain. Their job is to help regulate our food intake. Two of these nerve cells are the POMC neurons and the NPY neurons. When melanocortins are released from the POMC neurons, appetite decreases; when they are released from NPY neurons, appetite increases. Exercise, a new study shows, stimulates melanocortin release from the POMC neurons and inhibits release from the NPY neurons, improving metabolism and decreasing appetite. Let’s review this more in depth.
Melanocortin: How Just One Workout Can Supercharge Your Metabolism
The new study analyzed the brains of mice after undergoing a series of treadmill exercises and compared these to the brains of sedentary mice. The results? In the exercise mice, two key neurons (nerve cells) were affected by the exercise: POMC neurons and NPY neurons.
The POMC neurons that express receptors for leptin (a hormone that controls appetite by telling the body it’s full) were activated after exercise and stayed activated for up to two days following a single high-intensity interval exercise (HIIE). In addition, these mice not only ate less in the 24 hours following exercise but were also found to have a decrease in blood glucose. It’s also important to note that NPY neurons were inhibited with exercise; in the sedentary group, NPY neurons were activated, which decreases metabolism and, as already mentioned, increases appetite.
The activation of POMC neurons and the suppression of NPY neurons are both associated with the enhancement of melanocortin, which is known to improve glucose metabolism. The research states a comparable response would be expected in humans as the melanocortin brain circuits are similar to those in mice.
What Else Do We Know About Exercise and the Brain?
This isn’t the first study that has shown how exercise benefits the brain. One of the best things you can do to give your tired brain a boost is to exercise…and it doesn’t take much. Just a ten-minute moderately to vigorously intense bout of exercise is enough to recharge your brain, rewarding you with faster and more accurate responses.
We’ve also seen that exercise seems to have a positive effect on the bacterial environment in the gut. What does this have to do with the brain? In recent years, associations have been made between the health of the gut environment and its effect on the brain. For example, Parkinson’s may actually start in the gut as matching tissue fibers have been found in both locations in Parkinson’s patients. In addition, the condition of the bacterial environment in the gut has also been linked to the hippocampus and other areas in the brain that are responsible for processing emotion. So it appears that exercise can also benefit the brain as it helps clean up our gut.
The jury is still out on whether or not exercise actually improves dementia. Some studies have shown that exercise has no effect on dementia, while others, such as this much larger meta-analysis study, have shown cognitive performance improves in dementia patients who exercise. One thing the studies to seem to agree on is that physical fitness levels improve in dementia patients when they exercise.
More Reasons to Keep Exercising
In addition to a healthy brain, exercise is so important to keeping the rest of the body healthy on so many levels. Let’s take a look at a few I’ve covered on this blog:
- Regular exercise means healthier mitochondria, the power packs inside each of our cells that provides energy for the cell. Healthier mitochondria equals healthier cells equals a lower risk of many diseases.
- For those of us who spend way too much time in front of a screen, which is probably most of us in this age of computer technology, exercise has been shown to reverse the adverse affects of all that screen time.
- Need an immune system boost as you age? Exercise, exercise, exercise is the key suggests one study.
- Genetically predisposed to obesity? Research has shown that exercise keeps those obesity genes at bay.
- Exercise, in one study, relieved knee arthritis pain better than nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).
What if I Hurt Too Much to Exercise?
If you have too much pain to exercise, then your New Year's resolution also needs to include getting your joints, tendons, muscles, and ligaments addressed by an expert, without surgery. We do this all day every day, helping patients get back to doing what they love.
The upshot? There's no excuse, get out there and exercise! It will change your metabolism and is still the best medicine we have to prevent disease and reduce your risk of big health problems!