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Longevity Briefs: The Molecules Underpinning The Health Benefits Of Exercise

Posted on 14 June 2022

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Longevity briefs provides a short summary of novel research in biology, medicine, or biotechnology that caught the attention of our researchers in Oxford, due to its potential to improve our health, wellbeing, and longevity.

Why is this research important: We know that exercise is highly beneficial for health and longevity. In fact, in our list of 10 Easy Practices To Improve Health And Longevity, we ranked aerobic exercise and strength training as the two most effective ways to reduce your risk of death from all causes. The act of physical exertion benefits tissues throughout the whole body, but our picture of how this works is still incomplete. If we could understand the mechanisms of exercise better, we might be able to harness or mimic them to further improve health and longevity.

What did the researchers do: In this paper, researchers review what we know about how contracting muscle tissue communicates with distant tissues to bring about the changes that come with exercise training. Specifically, they discuss how reactive oxygen species (ROS) – chemicals formed from oxygen that can damage other molecules – are hypothesised to be necessary for these changes.

A summary of the protective effects of muscle contraction on other tissues.
Redox Signaling in Widespread Health Benefits of Exercise

Key takeaway(s) from this research: The authors describe the favoured model of how two ‘waves’ of reactive oxygen species are thought occur during and following exercise:

  • The first wave of ROS occurs in the contracting muscle as it consumes oxygen during exercise.
  • ROS trigger the production and release of proteins including a type of protein called a myokine. ROS also degrade lipids in a process called lipid peroxidation.
  • Contracting muscle releases metabolic by-products such as lactate (lactic acid) into the blood.
  • These metabolic by-products trigger a second wave of ROS in non-muscle tissues following exercise.
  • This second wave of ROS, combined with myokines and degraded lipids, lead to the activation of genes responsible for the health benefits associated with exercise (summarised in the figure above).

It’s also suspected that increased levels of hydrogen peroxide, one of the main ROS, attracts the immune cells that are involved in repairing damaged tissue.

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    Redox Signaling in Widespread Health Benefits of Exercise:

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