By Dr. Mercola
It's been known for many decades that exercise helps to build and strengthen your muscles, but more recent research is revealing that this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential role exercise can play in your health.
Far from just helping you to "bulk up" or lose weight, arguably the two top reasons why many people start working out, a new review in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism points out that exercise induces changes in mitochondrial enzyme content and activity, which can increase your cellular energy production and in so doing decrease your risk of chronic disease.
Exercise is a Potent Disease-Fighter
Writing in Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, researchers state:
"Increasing evidence now suggests that exercise can induce mitochondrial biogenesis in a wide range of tissues not normally associated with the metabolic demands of exercise. Perturbations [changes] in mitochondrial content and (or) function have been linked to a wide variety of diseases, in multiple tissues, and exercise may serve as a potent approach by which to prevent and (or) treat these pathologies."
Aside from impacting your skeletal muscle and fat tissue, researchers noted that exercise induces mitochondrial changes that may also benefit your liver, brain and kidneys. The mitochondria is the energy chamber of your cells, responsible for the utilization of energy for all metabolic functions.
Increasing mitochondrial activity is incredibly important because free radicals, which are toxic byproducts of metabolism as well as exposures to chemicals, pollutants and other toxins, can overwhelm your body's defenses, leading to oxidative damage to cells and tissues that can destroy cellular proteins, lipids and DNA, as well as lead to the loss of mitochondrial function.
In the long-term, irreversible damage in the mitochondria can occur, leading to:
- Impaired ability to utilize carbohydrates and fat for energy
- Insulin resistance
- Lower threshold for physical exercise
- Excessive weight gain
- Accelerated aging
The Wrong Type of Exercise Can Actually Damage Your Mitochondria
One of the most common causes of mitochondrial damage is aerobic overtraining. According to fitness expert Ori Hofmekler
"When done chronically [aerobics], it causes accumulated oxidative stress in the mitochondria with increased risk of oxidative damage. And when chronic aerobic overtraining comes along with inadequate nutrition (such as with those dieters who obsessively run on a treadmill to burn excess calories they get from a bad diet) the results could be even worse …
The combined effect of bad nutrition with bad training can be extremely destructive, and may lead over time to irreversible damage in the mitochondria along with a total metabolic decline."
This is precisely the reason why excessive cardio like that performed during marathons or triathlons is likely not much better at improving longevity than being sedentary. In fact, according to a study presented at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress 2010 in Montreal, regular exercise reduces cardiovascular risk by a factor of two or three. But the extended vigorous exercise performed during a marathon raises cardiac risk by seven-fold! The end result is not to shun all forms of aerobic exercise, but to learn how to do it wisely.
What Type of Aerobics is Best for Fighting Aging and Chronic Disease?
You may be cheating your body of the optimal exercise benefits if you are focusing your workouts on long periods of cardio. According to fitness expert Phil Campbell and author of Ready Set Go, getting cardiovascular benefits requires working all three types of muscle fibers and their associated energy systems -- and this cannot be done with traditional cardio.
Here's a quick review:
- Slow twitch (red muscle): Activated by traditional strength training and cardio exercises
- Fast twitch (white muscle): Activated by Peak Fitness exercises (short bursts of high-intensity activity)
- Super-fast (white muscle): Consists of fast twitch AND super-fast fibers, activated by Peak Fitness exercises
Traditional strength training and cardio exercises work primarily the aerobic process and the slow twitch (red) muscle fibers. On the other hand, Peak Fitness exercises work your aerobic AND your anaerobic processes, which is what you need for optimal cardiovascular benefit.
This is why you may not see the results you desire even when you're spending an hour on the treadmill several times a week. You're only working HALF of your muscle fibers!
In the case of Peak Fitness exercises, less is more, as you can get all the benefits you need in just a 20-minute session performed twice a week. In fact, you should not do Peak Fitness exercises more than three times a week, as if you do it more frequently than that you may actually do more harm than good -- similar to running marathons.
High-intensity interval-type training like Peak Fitness also boosts human growth hormone (HGH) production, which is also essential for optimal health, strength and vigor. I've discussed the importance of HGH for your health on numerous occasions, so for more information please review this previous article.
Taking Your Exercise to the Next Level…
I have recently begun integrating Peak Fitness exercise with intermittent fasting, as it appears this will greatly catalyze the potential of exercise to reduce your risk of chronic disease and help keep your body biologically young. Simply put, exercise and fasting yield acute oxidative stress, which actually benefits your muscle.
Ori explains that acute oxidative stress is:
" … essential for keeping your muscle machinery tuned. Technically, acute oxidative stress makes your muscle increasingly resilient to oxidative stress; it stimulates glutathione and SOD [superoxide dismutase, the first antioxidant mobilized by your cells for defense] production in your mitochondria along with increased muscular capacity to utilize energy, generate force and resist fatigue.
Hence, exercise and fasting help counteract all the main determinants of muscle aging. But there is something else about exercise and fasting. When combined, they trigger a mechanism that recycles and rejuvenates your brain and muscle tissues.
The mechanism he refers to is triggering genes and growth factors, including brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) and muscle regulatory factors (MRFs), which signal brain stem cells and muscle satellite cells to convert into new neurons and new muscle cells respectively. This means that exercise while fasting may actually help to keep your brain, neuro-motors and muscle fibers biologically young.
Intermittent fasting isn't as hard as it may sound, as it includes either fasting completely or simply minimizing your food intake during the day to small servings of light, low glycemic, mostly raw foods such as fruits, vegetables, whey protein or lightly poached eggs every 4-6 hours.
You then do your workout while fasting (30 minutes after your latest snack) followed by a very important recovery meal (whey protein) and then have your main meal at night. The combined effect of intermittent fasting and short intense exercise may help you to:
|Turn back the biological clock in your muscle and brain||Boost growth hormone||Improve body composition|
|Boost cognitive function||Boost testosterone||Prevent depression|
Do You Need Even MORE Reason to Exercise?
You've probably heard me say this before, but exercise can help fight virtually all chronic disease! This is a phenomenal benefit and if it were a pill it would be priceless.
The way it does this is through its ability to normalize your insulin levels. Insulin resistance is a condition in which your body loses its sensitivity to insulin, which results in excess blood sugar. This in turn has long been linked with a host of diseases, including diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer. Insulin resistance is also a potent factor in the vast majority of all chronic diseases.
The increase in insulin-related diseases is largely due to the excessive consumption of fructose and carbohydrates in the average American diet, combined with a lack of exercise. For more information on insulin's effects on your health, I recommend reading through Dr. Rosedale's classic and highly informative insulin lecture, but in the meantime, just remember that embarking on a comprehensive exercise program is one of the most extraordinary ways to boost your vitality, fight aging and live a happier, more fulfilling life!