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Exercise literally becomes harder when you don't do it

A new study from the University of Leeds reveals why exercise becomes harder when you don’t do it very often. The experts have linked low levels of physical activity to the deactivation of a vital protein in the body

The research shows that a lack of exercise deactivates the Piezo1 protein, a blood flow sensor, which then reduces the density of capillaries carrying blood to the muscles. When this occurs, blood flow is restricted and physical activity becomes more difficult. According to the study authors, this phenomenon can lead to a reduction in how much exercise is even possible.

“Physical fitness is important for survival,” wrote the study authors. “Lack of physical activity results in detraining, lower performance, and ultimately, incapacity. At least 2,500 years ago it was first documented that exercise is good for health.”

“Since the first epidemiological studies, research has continued to bestow on us a wealth of evidence that exercise protects against a host of ailments and life-threatening conditions that affect large numbers of people in 21st-century societies through heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, depression, dementia, cancer, osteoporosis, chronic kidney disease, and sexual dysfunction. Exercise is commonly encouraged, even prescribed, as therapy.”

The researchers conducted their study using a mouse model, but the Piezo1 protein is also found in humans, which suggests that the outcome of low physical activity is the same. 

“Unfortunately, many people fail to exercise enough, for reasons such as injury and computer usage. This puts people at more risk of disease. The less people exercise, the less fit they become, often leading to a downward spiral,” said study lead author Fiona Bartoli.

“Although many responses to exercise are known, how the benefits of exercise are initially triggered at a molecular level is mysterious. Our study highlights the crucial link between physical activity and physical performance made at this level by Piezo1. Keeping our Piezo1s active by exercising may be crucial in our physical performance and health.” 

Professor David Beech said that the research sheds new light on how Piezo1’s role in blood vessels is connected to physical activity. “A lot was already known about its role in blood vessel development, but far less was known about its contribution to vessel maintenance in adults.”  

“Our discovery also provides an opportunity to think about how loss of muscle function could be treated in new ways: if we activate Piezo1, it might help to maintain exercise capability.” 

The study was funded by the British Heart Foundation and is published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.

By Chrissy Sexton, Staff Writer

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