Science is approaching exercise in pill form. That might not be such a good thing…

Be active and move are messages we hear a lot when it comes to wellness tips. And with reason. Exercise is miraculous.

Staying active has been medically and scientifically proven to have many benefits. People who do regular physical activity have a reduced risk of stroke and heart disease, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, dementia, hip fractures and early death.

And now researchers from Baylor College of Medicine are publishing their findings in the journal Naturehave discovered a molecule produced by the body during exercise that can reduce appetite and obesity.

The research team analyzed blood samples from mice that ran on a treadmill and found that a modified amino acid called Lac-Phe is produced from lactate and phenylalanine. When obese mice on a high-fat diet were then given Lac-Phe, it reduced food intake by approximately 50 percent over 12 hours, which was completely unrelated to movement or energy expenditure.

Lac-Phe was then given to mice for 10 days and the researchers found that it reduced food intake, body fat and weight and improved glucose tolerance. High levels of Lac-Phe are also found in racehorses and humans after exercise, perhaps reinforcing the idea that this biochemical response is a regulatory system that has always been present in many species.

If we can take this molecule and put it in pill form, can we at some point get all the benefits of exercise just by taking a pill? This is an exciting idea as it could offer a way to improve the health of people who struggle to exercise due to various conditions or illnesses.

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As this study shows, much attention is paid in our world to the physical health benefits of exercise, but not so much to the mental and emotional benefits that an active lifestyle can offer. Exercise affects our self-esteem and confidence, our cognition, our sense of purpose, our ability to relate and our sense of achievement in achieving individual and personalized goals.

Exercise has been shown to reduce depression and anxiety and can help us manage negative feelings as well as alleviate symptoms of social withdrawal. It’s a tool we can use to support our mental health and well-being.

Cognitive function is also improved through exercise. Studies using mouse models have
found that cardiovascular exercise triggers the creation of new brain cells. Exercise can improve memory and cognitive decline, as well as spark creativity.

And those benefits start early. There is some evidence that when children get active, it can improve their cognitive abilities and their ability to concentrate. It can help them perform better academically in some subjects, along with helping their ability to regulate their emotions.

We’ve all experienced that sense of personal accomplishment in acquiring a new skill in a sport or achieving a goal we’ve set for ourselves. This is not surprising as studies have also shown that increased physical activity directly affects self-esteem and can therefore be considered a recommendation for people who report low self-esteem. Exercise doesn’t have to mean logging miles on a treadmill either; we can choose the activity we like the most, whether it’s dancing, swimming, jumping on a trampoline or walking.

Exercise can help us connect with ourselves and others, making it a particularly useful activity in a society like ours where loneliness is prevalent. Some studies show that group exercise lowers stress levels compared to individual exercise and can significantly improve self-reported quality of life. Other studies have shown that group exercise contributes to the expansion of communities through mutual support and social connectedness.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many studies report positive effects on well-being and loneliness when people participate in group activities.

So while this research on Lac-Phe is exciting, if we ever manage to get all the physical benefits of exercise in a tablet, it’s important to make sure we don’t forget the other benefits an active lifestyle has to offer. Our overall health and well-being consists of physical, mental and emotional elements. They are not mutually exclusive, but rather must exist in perfect, parallel harmony.

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