Find out how to get rid of worn-out muscle proteins and keep your muscles healthy and functional. Discover the surprising molecular changes that come from 10 minutes of training, and learn the truth about a ‘fat-burning’ wonder drug. This research roundup has it all. Plus new insights into how lockdown affected our health.

How to ‘clean up’ your muscles

Exercise won’t just build muscle; a new study reveals physical activity eliminates worn-out muscle proteins so that freshly synthesized proteins can flourish. The research showed a single, intense 10-minute cycle session drives a significant increase in the activity of Ubiquitin – a 'death marker protein' that tags on to other worn-out proteins and causes them to degrade. According to the researchers, Ubiquitin simply "gobbles up worn-out proteins and spits them out as amino acids”. These amino acids are then used in the synthesis of new proteins. Researchers discovered the muscle-cleansing benefits of exercise after assessing a group of 26-28-year-old men and performing blood tests and muscle biopsies before and after a series of short, but intense, cycle workouts. Researcher Professor Jørgen Wojtaszewski says these findings highlight part of the reason why physical activity is so good for our health. “The beauty is that muscle use, in and of itself, is what initiates the processes that keep muscles 'up to date', healthy and functional.”

Scientists reveal a new 'fat-burning' molecule … with a catch

Imagine this – a magical molecule that can decrease body fat without altering food intake, muscle mass, or body temperature. Scientists have found just that. The bizarrely named BAM15 is a small molecule that travels to the mitochondria – the powerhouse of the cell – to help cells respire more. Webster Santos, one of the Virginia Tech scientists behind the study, explains that the BAM15 molecule basically changes metabolism in the cell, so that more calories are burned without doing any exercise. Most 'anti-fat' drugs are designed to tell your body to stop eating, which commonly results in rebound eating and a greater weight gain down the track. But BAM15 was shown to not affect the satiety center in the brain. Those dosed with BAM15 and those in the control group ate the same amount, yet the BAM15 subjects still lost more fat mass. But there’s a catch – the study involved mice, not humans. The researchers say that, in mice, the effectiveness of the drug was limited to a short time, and for this reason, they don't expect it to be successful for humans. They are now working on tweaking the chemical structure to create a longer-lasting effect. While the outcome may be beneficial for some, the vast majority of people trying to maintain a healthy weight will find sticking with a healthy diet and exercise is the safest bet.

Surprised scientists find exercise triggers 9,815 molecular changes

There's a mountain of evidence showing how exercise alters everything from our metabolism and our muscles, to our immune response, genes, and more. Most of these findings come from studies focused on a single arena, such as metabolomics (the study of molecules that influence metabolism) or genomics (the study of molecules linked to genetic expression). Now, for the first time, a study has explored every molecular change stemming from exercise.

Having comprehensively assessed the health of 100 individuals, a team of Stanford University researchers selected 36 participants aged between 40 and 75 and spanning the full spectrum of fitness and metabolic health. In other words, some were in great shape, some were not. After initial blood testing, each individual ran on a treadmill at increasing intensity until exhaustion, usually after nine or 10 minutes. Researchers drew blood at varied intervals post-exercise. They then studied the blood, measuring the levels of a whopping 17,662 different molecules. More than half of the molecules (9,815) changed after exercise. The interesting thing was the different ways they changed. Some increased. Others declined. Some spiked then fell. Others slowly grew or dropped away. The degree and timings of the change all varied, depending on the individual.

The researchers – who were taken aback by the magnitude of the changes – now plan further studies into how certain molecular responses might inform optimal training prescriptions. This involves seeing what molecular profiles indicate higher or lower aerobic endurance, who will benefit from increased resistance exercise, and how doctors can start assessing fitness with a simple blood test. Watch this space.

What has lockdown done to our health?

It’s no surprise that getting seriously sick from coronavirus or having loved ones get sick is recorded as being the biggest health concern right now. The majority of almost 4,000 survey respondents in the US and UK rate it as their number one worry. But that's not the only concern. A GlobalWebIndex report says many also fear their mental health going downhill. Not getting sufficient exercise, not maintaining a healthy diet and lack of sleep was also causing unease. A quarter of all respondents reported pandemic pressures keeping them awake at night, with Gen Z and Millennials seeing the most dramatic changes. This group was also eating fewer healthy meals. Interestingly, it’s females who are more likely to be leading less healthy lifestyles as a result of the pandemic. And women are also more concerned about finances and the strain on healthcare services than they are for their own mental health. The UK stands out as having more people doing less exercise and eating fewer healthy foods as a result of lockdown. The report suggests this may be why more people in the UK are concerned about their mental health than in the US.

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