It’s well established that exercise improves health, and recent research has shown that exercise benefits the body in different ways, depending on the time of day. However, scientists still don’t know why the timing of exercise produces these different effects. To better understand, an international team of scientists recently carried out the most comprehensive study to date on exercise performed at different times of the day.
Their research shows how the body produces different health-promoting signaling molecules in an organ-specific way after exercise depending on the time of day. These signals have a broad impact on health, influencing sleep, memory, physical performance and metabolic homeostasis. Their findings were recently published in the journal Cell metabolism.
“A better understanding of how exercise affects the body at different times of the day could help us maximize the benefits of exercise for people at risk for diseases, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes. “, says Professor Juleen R. Zierath of Karolinska Institutet and the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Basic Metabolic Research (CBMR) at the University of Copenhagen.
Using Exercise to Repair a Faulty Biological Clock
Almost all cells regulate their biological processes over 24 hours, otherwise known as the circadian rhythm. This means that the sensitivity of different tissues to the effects of exercise changes depending on the time of day. Previous research has confirmed that synchronizing exercise with our circadian rhythm can optimize the health benefits of exercise.
The team of international scientists wanted a more detailed understanding of this effect, so they conducted a series of experiments on mice that exercised early in the morning or late at night. Blood samples and different tissues, including brain, heart, muscle, liver and fat, were taken and analyzed by mass spectrometry. This allowed the scientists to detect hundreds of different metabolites and hormone signaling molecules in each tissue, and monitor how they were changed by exercise at different times of the day.
The result is an “Exercise Metabolism Atlas” – a comprehensive map of exercise-induced signaling molecules present in different tissues after exercise at different times of the day.
“As this is the first comprehensive study that summarizes time- and exercise-dependent metabolism across multiple tissues, it is of great value to generate and refine systemic models for the metabolism and crosstalk of organs,” adds Dominik Lutter, Head of Computational Discovery Research at the Helmholtz Diabetes Center in Helmholtz Munich.
New insights include a deeper understanding of how tissues communicate with each other and how exercise can help ‘realign’ faulty circadian rhythms in specific tissues – faulty circadian clocks have been linked to risks obesity and type 2 diabetes. Finally, the study identified novel exercise-induced signaling molecules in multiple tissues that require further investigation to understand how they may individually or collectively influence health.
“Not only do we show how different tissues respond to exercise at different times of the day, but we also propose how these responses are connected to induce an orchestrated adaptation that controls systemic energy homeostasis,” says Associate Professor Jonas Thue Treebak from CBMR at the University of Copenhagen and co-first author of the publication.
A resource for future exercise research
The study has several limitations. The experiments were carried out in mice. Although mice share many common genetic, physiological and behavioral characteristics with humans, they also have important differences. For example, the mice are nocturnal, and the type of exercise was also limited to treadmill running, which may produce different results compared to high-intensity exercise. Finally, the impact of sex, age and disease were not taken into account in the analysis.
“Despite the limitations, this is an important study that helps direct other research that can help us better understand how exercise, if timed correctly, can help improve health,” says Assistant Professor Shogo Sato of the Department of Biology and the Center for Biological Research. Clocks Research at Texas A&M University and co-first author.
Co-first author Kenneth Dyar, head of metabolic physiology at the Helmholtz Diabetes Center at Helmholtz Munich, highlighted the usefulness of the atlas as a comprehensive resource for exercise biologists. “While our resource offers important new insights into known energy metabolites and signaling molecules, it is only the tip of the iceberg. We show some examples of how our data can be used to identify new tissue- and time-specific signaling molecules,” he says. .
Exercise can have different effects in the morning and in the evening
Juleen R. Zierath, Atlas of Exercise Metabolism reveals time-dependent signatures of metabolic homeostasis, Cell metabolism (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2021.12.016.
Provided by the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers
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