It is a well-known fact that exercise is important for the body and mind. With more and more research on mitochondria, it is becoming increasingly clear why that is. While mitochondrial function provides the body with energy for exercise, the reverse is also true. Regular exercise enhances mitochondrial function by enhancing ATP generation, especially as you age. Endurance and aerobic exercise—such as cycling, jogging and walking—trigger the cells to create new mitochondria and simultaneously improve their function.
While mitochondria are not a part of daily parlance about health and wellness, these tiny organelles that live within cells are crucial for vitality—in both disease and health. That’s why for optimum physical health you need to keep your mitochondria in check.
But how do you keep something like mitochondria healthy? The simple answer: EXERCISE. You see, mitochondria possess immense plasticity which permits them to adjust their structure, capacity, and volume when you exercise. In fact, a 2021 study published in the journal Frontiers in Physiology suggests that exercise is widely considered to be a non-pharmacological intervention to keep mitochondrial health in check as it allows for the repair of damaged mitochondria as well produce new ones. Thus, exercise keeps the metabolic state of the mitochondria in your body in check.
The relationship between mitochondria, exercise, and ageing
Comparisons in RNA sequencing and proteomic data across various exercise groups have shown that exercise can encourage cells to produce more RNA copies of the genes that code for mitochondrial proteins and muscle growth proteins. Young adults who engaged in interval training exhibited a 49% rise in mitochondrial capacity, while in older adults, a 69% rise was observed. Interestingly, high-intensity biking actually reversed the age-related decrease in mitochondrial function.
A recent study looked into cell metabolism—including 36 women and 36 men, who were divided into groups of “young” (18 to 30 years) and “older” (65 to 80 years) adults. They were further divided into exercise groups, namely: strength training using weights, interval and strength training combination, and high-intensity interval biking. A biopsy of each participant’s thigh muscles was taken. The molecular makeup of these samples was compared with those of a control group involving sedentary volunteers. Insulin sensitivity and lean muscle mass were also analysed. The results suggested that while strength training was effective at building muscle mass, as is popularly known, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) was most effective at a cellular level, especially for the mitochondria.
How to get started with HIIT
As daunting as HIIT sounds, it actually just refers to workouts that involve brief periods of highly-intense exercise alternated with exercises that are low on intensity and thus allow recovery. HIIT not only burns more calories than other types of workouts, but it also boosts the metabolic rate and improves the body’s oxygen consumption. Plus given its benefits for your body right down to the cellular level, it’s time to include HIIT in your workout regimen. Here are a couple of workouts you can start with:
*Jog to warm up your body and then sprint as fast as you can for 15 seconds. Follow it up with a slow walk or jog to allow your body to cool down for 1 to 2 minutes. Repeat for half an hour.
*Do as many burpees as you can without a pause for 1 minute and then rest for about 1 minute by standing or slowly walking. Repeat the circuit for 20 minutes. Note: you can also do squat jumps instead of burpees.
Exercise and mitochondria have a symbiotic relationship. While mitochondria are essential for effective energy production and fuelling the body in order to exercise, exercise itself is great for maintaining and enhancing mitochondrial health and function. So don’t let your sedentary lifestyle come in the way of your health, and start exercising for the sake of your mitochondria.