A fascinating new study from scientists at UT Southwestern Medical Center could provide some motivation to get moving, even just occasionally. The research has revealed that a single workout can positively affect the activity of neurons in the brain that influence metabolism for up to two days.

The research focused on a subset of neurons in the brain referred to as the melanocortin brain circuit. Melanocortins are a collection of peptide hormones known to help regulate the body's food intake, and two types of neurons are seen to play a role in the release of melanocortins; POMC neurons and AgRP neurons.

To evaluate how exercise affects activity in those two types of neurons, the study measured brain activity in mice after being subjected to a variety of physical activity. The findings revealed a single 60-minute treadmill workout triggered changes in the animals' melanocortin neurons that lasted up to two days.

After a single exercise session POMC neurons displayed increased activity, resulting in reduced appetite and lowered blood glucose levels, while activity in AgRP neurons was decreased. Prior research has found overactive AgRP neurons can lower metabolism and increase appetite.

"It doesn't take much exercise to alter the activity of these neurons," says Kevin Williams, one of the UT Southwestern scientists working on the project. "Based on our results, we would predict that getting out and exercising even once in a semi-intense manner can reap benefits that can last for days, in particular with respect to glucose metabolism."

Although these results have only been proven in animal models, the researchers are confident they would be mirrored in humans as the melanocortin brain circuit is similar in both humans and mice. The team now plans to try and home in on the exact mechanism that exercise seems to be triggering the results in the neuronal changes witnessed.

"This research is not just for improving fitness," says Williams. "A better understanding of neural links to exercise can potentially help a number of conditions affected by glucose regulation."

The new research was published in the journal Molecular Metabolism.

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