In the past, the role of physical activity as a life-style modulating factor has been considered as that of a tool to balance energy intake. Although it is important to avoid obesity, physical inactivity should be discussed in a much broader context. There is accumulating epidemiological evidence that a physically active life plays an independent role in the protection against type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer, dementia and even depression. For most of the last century, researchers sought a link between muscle contraction and humoral changes in the form of an 'exercise factor', which could be released from skeletal muscle during contraction and mediate some of the exercise-induced metabolic changes in other organs such as the liver and the adipose tissue. We have suggested that cytokines or other peptides that are produced, expressed and released by muscle fibres and exert autocrine, paracrine or endocrine effects should be classified as 'myokines'. Given that skeletal muscle is the largest organ in the human body, our discovery that contracting skeletal muscle secretes proteins sets a novel paradigm: skeletal muscle is an endocrine organ producing and releasing myokines, which work in a hormone-like fashion, exerting specific endocrine effects on other organs. Other myokines work via paracrine mechanisms, exerting local effects on signalling pathways involved in muscle metabolism. It has been suggested that myokines may contribute to exercise-induced protection against several chronic diseases.