Exercising Your Marvelous Mitochondria

Sure, your doctor chides you to get moving and perhaps your spouse nudges you to lace up your tennies and head to the gym, but do you know exactly why exercise is imperative as you age? The answers might surprise you.

As we grow older, our hearts beat more slowly and pump less blood. In turn, our lung capacity decreases. Why are these changes worrisome? Essentially, this systematic slow down results in decreased maximal oxygen consumption, which causes less oxygen to reach muscles. The decrease in muscle oxygen consumption is a prime reason why seniors slow down, grow weak and basically lose stamina. When speed, strength and stamina ebb, we lose the ability to do the basic activities of independent, joyful living.

Now here’s the good news, a study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that regular aerobic exercise could decrease biological age by 10 years or more. Another study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology explored the topic further and determined that one of the ways aerobic exercise decreases biological age is by improving mitochondria function. The mitochondria are responsible for essential energy production. Cells pump out more energy when the mitochondria are efficient.

To simplify this principle, consider when a person gets cut and new skin grows over the wound. If the wound heals quickly it is an indicator of good health. Conversely, slow healing indicates ill health or disease. This same principle can be applied across cells: where mitochondria function is improved, corporeal cells turn over, regenerate (where applicable) and function at a higher level for a longer time period.

In a nutshell, activity level correlates with improved mitochondria function. The more effort a person puts into exercise, the greater are the mitochondrial changes. This, in turn, leads to a bigger reduction in biological age over the life span.