You already know that exercise is good for you, especially if you have diabetes. But did you know how exercise helps you maintain your health? It may not sound that important, but understanding the inner workings of this process is helping researchers figure out how to replicate it. Here’s the scoop.
Most of the time, fat cells release a protein called adipokine, which has harmful effects on the body, including decreased metabolism. As weight increases, so does the number of adipokine proteins in the body, creating a cycle of difficulty losing weight and exacerbated health issues.
However, a team of researchers has conducted mouse and human studies to show that, when you exercise, muscles release lactic acid, which then travels to fat cells, triggering the release of a different sort of adipokine protein, one that actually aids in lowering blood glucose levels.
“In contrast to the negative effects of many adipokines, our study identified transforming growth factor beta 2 (TGF-beta 2) as an adipokine released from adipose tissue (fat) in response to exercise that actually improves glucose tolerance,” says Laurie J. Goodyear, Ph.D., Head of Joslin’s Section on Integrative Physiology and Metabolism and study co-author.
We’ve always thought fat was a bad thing, but it seems exercise can cause changes in fat that actually benefit us. And, it turns out, better glucose tolerance isn’t the only diabetes-related improvement you can look forward to when starting an exercise regimen.
After TGF-beta 2 was found to improve glucose levels, researchers treated mice with TGF-beta 2 and learned that it lowered their blood lipid levels, increased fatty acid uptake, and improved their metabolism as well. These changes helped with weight management and diabetes management.
“The fact that a single protein has such important and dramatic effects was quite impressive,” says Goodyear.
It’s also worth noting that manually treating the mice with TGF-beta 2 had about the same effect as exercise did, demonstrating that these types of health improvements are possible even in people who refuse to or are not able to exercise. Having more than one way to mimic the effects of exercise will certainly help us improve health outcomes for many people, even if real exercise is better than taking a medication.
Perhaps there will come a time in the future when we can take a pill instead of exercising. For now, though, we’ve got a few extra reasons to hit the gym today. Our fat could actually be helping us make exercise more effective for our bodies!
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?