We all know that regular exercise is good for us. Stronger bodies, better circulation, more energy and improved sleep are just some of the reported benefits. But did you know that moving your body and working your muscles might also lead to a more resilient mind? Proteins released by muscles during exercise, dubbed "hope molecules" are emerging as important factors in mental well-being.

The Discovery of Hope Molecules..

Back in 2012, a team of researchers at UCLA led by Dr David Brown observed an interesting phenomenon in mice: those lacking a specific muscle protein called PGC-1α showed signs of depressive-like behaviour. When injected with the protein however, the mice appeared to show signs of improved mood and motivation. This led to the question: could this protein, or others like it, be the link between exercise and mental health?

Further human studies uncovered a range of "hope molecules" released by muscles during exercise. These included interleukin-6 (IL-6), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and cathepsin B. These molecules, once thought confined to the muscles, were found to travel through the bloodstream, cross the blood-brain barrier, and potentially influence our mood and mental state.

These key hope molecules promote the growth and survival of brain cells, act as anti-inflammatories, and influence the release of our "happy hormones" serotonin and dopamine. Ultimately, regular exercise contributes to a more positive outlook on life, and reduced stress and anxiety.

It's important to remember that this area of research in on-going, and is by no means conclusive. We all know that exercise makes us feel better and there are various mechanisms at work that determine this - not just the release of hope molecules. Having said that, one thing is clear - movement matters. From a brisk walk to work or to the shops, to a high-intensity HIIT workout, moving your body triggers the release of several mood-boosting chemicals, potentially contributing to a happier, healthier, and more resilient you.

Remember that finding time to exercise can have a huge, positive impact on your overall health and wellbeing. Find activities that you enjoy, and incorporate movement into your daily routine. Your body (and mind) will surely thank you for it!

Please note: "Hope molecules" should not be considered a replacement for seeking professional help for mental health concerns.