This is what hormones and exercise does to your body, according to a new study.

Hey ladies! How often do you hit the gym? All the time, or not at all? Whatever. That feminine moment when you ladies get stress and act up as if you’re being stereotypically lazy. We’ve all been there. And that’s not fair, at all. According to a new study by several professors on the topic of hormonal levels and exercising, there seems to be some weight of evidence to what hormones does to our bodies when we exercise, especially in women. Say NO to sexism, please!

The Estrogen-Blind Mice

Pop quiz: Do women become inactive after menopause? This was one of several questions that were hypothesis that led to a new study. According to researchers, estrogen levels change brain activity in way that could affect our physical activities. In the recent study which was published in Nature, researchers used advanced technology to analyze and pinpoint specific genes and neurons in mice. The study found that an increase in estrogen levels jump-started process in their brain activity that made them more active — even in male mice.

Although humans also share similar biological traits — hormones, genes, and neurons — yet researchers were not able to conclude whether our neural and physiological systems work the same way, too. However, the findings suggest quite a number of intriguing theories about why women become inactive after menopause, especially when estrogen fades. Their results also testifies how our brain and several internal biological functions play a substantial role in whether the body gets active or stays inactive.

From a 1924 study that found that female mammals tend to become more physically active before ovulation — that’s when they are most sexually receptive. (Evolutionarily speaking, it makes sense, that’s when they hunt for a mating partner). And in the proceeding decades, it was hypothesized that estrogen might be a driving force in this behavior. But how on Earth in the amazing nature of the female anatomy could estrogen influence physical activity? Enter physiology professor Holly Ingraham of the University of California in San Francisco.

Professor Ingraham has a long-standing interest in feminine physiology and metabolism, so she led her team of researchers for this study. They first sampled healthy adult mice and restraint the estrogen uptake in them, while they tracked their movements. Shortly after, the mice without estrogen became increasingly …. Later on, they examined a number of genes in the mice brains and found that, in particular, there were extra doses of proteins released when they were bathed in estrogen, but became dormant when it was absent.

This particular gene was melanocortin-4 (also known as Mc4r), which was previously linked in people to food intake in body weight. Scientists are now convinced that Mc4r might be the bridge between estrogen and the impulse to be physically active. This idea was substantiated with the used of high-tech genetic mapping techniques by Jessica Tollkuhn, a co-author of the study, and assistant professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory’s school of biological sciences, New York State.

O’l Ladies Be Active Like Men… Oh! Pause

These techniques proved that when estrogen bind to Mc4r genes in certain neurons, brain activity in the mice involved high energy surges. The neurons also made connections with other neurons elsewhere in the brain that control the pace at which the mice move. Collectively, their experiment found that the firing of estrogen in a particular gene caused certain neurons to nudge an animal into motion. They later used chemogenetics — a more sophisticated technique — to finally direct and galvanize relevant neurons in anti-estrogen producing female mice that were bred to produce none.

These were physically sluggish mice who were then able to move, stand, play, and run farther than they did before. Even when the scientists used CRISPR (another gene-editing technology) to vamp up activity, the mice were more physically active than ever before. This physical surge persisted for weeks, which was even noticed in male mice, too. According to Ingraham, these results showed the “complexity of physical activity behavior,” an indication of how genetics and other factors like endocrinology and neurology affects an animals spontaneous ability to move or not.

This new study also raised concerns about the “timing of exercise, to have its most beneficial impact for women, might be fine-tuned by considering the changing hormonal milieu,” and the changes accompanied with menopause, says Dr Tamas Horvath, a professor of neuroscience and obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at Yale school of medicine, who is also chairman of the school’s department of comparative medicine.

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“Of course, all these observations in mice need to be confirmed to operate in us, humans,” says Dr Horvath, though she wasn’t part of the new study. “However, the fact that this mechanism is found in an ancient part of the brain suggests that it will be applicable for most mammals, including humans.”

The Future, Feminine Life, And After Menopause

“We assume this circuit is working in human, too.” Ingraham agrees. According to the new study and subsequent ones to come, could help explain — if even in part — why inactivity is so common among women after menopause, and also offer solutions for overcoming lassitude. For instance, increasing estrogen levels in older women might help them become more active, though in theory. Although estrogen-replacement therapy remains largely in the pipeline due to the heightened risks of cancer related diseases.

However, this study also gives a hint of possible ways to bypass estrogen by creating new effective therapies that could address this issue. Either directly targeting the Mc4r gene or other relevant neurons in human brain that can mimic estrogen-like effects in the body of women. Any such medical advances are years in the future, Ingraham says.

This study has delved deep into “the relationship between hormones and physical activity in females,” says Paul Ansdel, exercise physiology lecturer at Northumbria University in England. “This study has significant implications for human studying the menstrual cycle and hormonal contraceptives and also menopause. We know the importance of exercising in later life for promoting and maintaining health, so the challenges for us now is to understand the best ways to stay active throughout the major hormonal transition that is menopause.”

Ingraham signs off with a hope for feminine health in the future — as she notes our increasing longevity — it would be better to understand how estrogen plays a part in physical activity of women. For instance, this could help us plan our physical routine as we age while we better understand how our internal biology works. Or better assess our physical state of health over time as we age gracefully as we’d like to be, even our gender. “Knowledge is power,” as Ingraham concludes, and we have the power “to decide to be active.”

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Mon, Nov 22, 2021.


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