Regular moderate exercise is correlated with greater life expectancy in humans and shown to cause greater life expectancy in animal studies. It definitely improves health. Thus now that more of the mechanisms of exercise are understood, researchers are interested in uncovering molecular targets and drugs that can reproduce some of those effects:
Scientists have discovered a new hormone that fights the weight gain caused by a high-fat Western diet and normalizes the metabolism - effects commonly associated with exercising. Hormones are molecules that act as the body's signals, triggering various physiological responses. The newly discovered hormone, dubbed "MOTS-c," primarily targets muscle tissue, where it restores insulin sensitivity, counteracting diet-induced and age-dependent insulin resistance.
To test the effects of MOTS-c, the team injected the hormone into mice fed a high-fat diet, which typically causes them to grow obese and develop a resistance to insulin. The injections not only suppressed both effects in mice, they also reversed age-dependent insulin-resistance, a condition that precedes diabetes. "This discovery sheds new light on mitochondria and positions them as active regulators of metabolism." MOTS-c is unique among hormones in that it is encoded in the DNA of mitochondria - the "powerhouses" of cells that convert food into energy. Other hormones are encoded in DNA in the nucleus.
While all of the experiments on MOTS-c to date have been performed on lab mice, the molecular mechanisms that make it function in mice exist in all mammals, including humans. The MOTS-c intellectual property has been licensed to a biotechnology company, and clinical trials in humans could begin within the next three years.