New study explains why exercise is more difficult after not doing it for a while

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Experts say restricted blood flow is an important factor in exercise ability

Exercising regularly can help guarantee a longer life, but consumers can often fall off the wagon and go through stages of being more sedentary. When they try to get back into their exercise routines, it can sometimes be a lot harder to get back into shape. 

A new study conducted by researchers from the University of Leeds explored why exercise feels harder after you haven't done it in a while. Their findings showed that a protein that's important to blood flow, Piezo1, is deactivated when we stop exercising regularly. The researchers say compromised blood flow can make trying to get back into exercise more strenuous.

“Exercise protects against cardiovascular disease, diabetes, depression, and cancer,” said researcher Fiona Bartoli. “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. 

“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.”  

Consistency is key with physical activity

The researchers conducted their study on mice to better understand how the body responds to lapses in physical activity. Over the course of 10 weeks, one group of mice was left to exercise as they normally would while another group had their Piezo1 levels disrupted. 

The researchers explained that the Piezo1 protein acts as a sensor for blood flow and moves blood to the muscles. When the protein was deactivated in some of the mice, the researchers observed important differences in their physical activity and overall health outcomes. 

The mice in the experimental group weren’t running as fast, and they weren’t able to make as many complete trips around an activity wheel. This group wasn’t less willing to exercise, but their bodies weren’t as capable of performing as well.

These findings emphasize the importance of the Piezo1 protein in exercise and why consistency is so important. Less exercise weakens the production of the Piezo1 protein, which ultimately limits blood flow to the muscles. This makes the body feel weaker and makes exercise feel more difficult. 

“Our work sheds light on how Piezo1’s role in blood vessels is connected to physical activity,” said researcher David Beech. “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." 

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