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Hope Molecules - Exercise & Myokines

Exercise does wonders for our health, both physical and mental. Some mental benefits of exercise include:


Strength Training Improves Brain Function [1]

Strength training has positive effects on cognitive function, memory and attention. Strength training also increases the size of the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain responsible for memory and learning.


Muscle Health Affects Brain Health [2]

An example here is insulin resistance, which can be caused by poor muscle health, and has been linked with cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. Exercise creates healthy muscles through use, and therefore contributes to healthier brains.


Exercise Promotes Brain Health [3]

Exercise produces a protein called Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF), which is pivotal for the growth and survival of brain cells. BDNF is also a Myokine, and an anti-depressant.


What are Myokines?

Also known as 'Hope Molecules', Myokines are a class of signalling molecules that are produced and released by skeletal muscle fibres during exercise. They play a crucial role in the communication between muscles and other organs, and have been shown to have a wide range of important physiological functions.


One of the key functions of Myokines is their ability to regulate inflammation. Myokines such as IL-6 and IL-15 have been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects, while others such as Myostatin and TNF-alpha have pro-inflammatory effects [4]. By balancing inflammation, Myokines can help to regulate immune function and promote tissue repair [5].


In addition to their role in inflammation, Myokines have also been implicated in metabolic regulation [6]. For example, Irisin is a Myokine that has been shown to increase energy expenditure and promote the browning of white adipose tissue, potentially offering therapeutic benefits in the treatment of obesity and type 2 diabetes.


Other Myokines have been shown to have effects on the brain and nervous system, such as BDNF, which is involved in neuroplasticity and has been shown to have positive effects on cognitive function and mood [4, 7].


Exercise as an Anti-Depressant

Myokines are affectionately referred to as 'Hope Molecules', because they cause an effect like the creation of hope in a person, which can serve as a powerful anti-depressant. BDNF seems to be a particularly aptly named with the term ‘Hope Molecule’ with its positive effects on mood.


The thing is though: Myokines are created and released during muscle contractions. You have to move your body - exercise in any form, and contract your muscles while doing so to release these Hope Molecules.


So, find an activity you enjoy, be it walking, running, strength training, martial arts - anything! Just get moving, and contracting those muscles.


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Daniel Glassbrook, PhD


Daniel is a sports scientist and researcher, currently working as the first team sports scientist for the Newcastle Falcons Rugby Club, and a postdoctoral researcher in sports related concussion at Durham University.


References

1. Coelho-Junior, H., et al., Resistance training improves cognitive function in older adults with different cognitive status: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Aging & mental health, 2022. 26(2): p. 213-224.

2. Morris, J.K., et al., Aerobic exercise for Alzheimer's disease: A randomized controlled pilot trial. PloS one, 2017. 12(2): p. e0170547.

3. Gómez-Pinilla, F., Brain foods: the effects of nutrients on brain function. Nature reviews neuroscience, 2008. 9(7): p. 568-578.

4. Pedersen, B.K., Muscles and their myokines. Journal of Experimental Biology, 2011. 214(2): p. 337-346.

5. Pedersen, B.K. and M.A. Febbraio, Muscles, exercise and obesity: skeletal muscle as a secretory organ. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 2012. 8(8): p. 457-465.

6. Carson, J.A., J.P. Hardee, and B.N. VanderVeen, The emerging role of skeletal muscle oxidative metabolism as a biological target and cellular regulator of cancer-induced muscle wasting. Seminars in cell & developmental biology, 2016. 54: p. 53-67.

7. Rothman, S. and M. Mattson, Activity-dependent, stress-responsive BDNF signaling and the quest for optimal brain health and resilience throughout the lifespan. Neuroscience, 2013. 239: p. 228-240.

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