Mitochondria and aging

Reduced mitochondrial function is one of the main causes of age-related decline in performance and weight gain. A five-year-old has 100% healthy mitochondria and a 90-year-old has 95% damaged mitochondria. It quickly becomes clear why the five-year-old plays all day long and is bursting with energy and health but never seems to get tired. After all, the mitochondria are the power plants of our cells.

If you look at the cells as cities, then the mitochondria are the power plants. They are responsible for producing energy from fats and carbohydrates. They “burn” carbohydrates, amino acids, and fats for energy and produce ATP (adenosine triphosphate). ATP is required as an energy supplier for all cell processes in the body. The body needs it for the heart to beat, the brain to function, muscles to contract, regulate body temperature, and much, much more. Simply put, mitochondria produce ATP and without ATP there is no life.

Mitochondria are everywhere. In every cell type and every type of tissue. From head to toe. Each cell has between 2 and 2,500 mitochondria. There are billions of mitochondria in our body. The largest number of mitochondria are found in the muscles. Muscle cells often contain thousands of mitochondria that produce massive amounts of ATP for movement and especially during training.

Mitochondria are the only cell components that have their own DNA. Scientists therefore believe that they were originally independent organisms that entered into a symbiosis with mammalian cells during evolution. There are more and more biologists supporting the theory that the number and function of mitochondria determine our lifespan. The more functioning mitochondria we have in our body, the better our health and endurance. The problem is that the functionality of our mitochondria declines with age. The age-related decay of mitochondria is faster than that of other cell components.

The bottom line is that cell aging is closely related to the decline and function of mitochondria. We want to have as many healthy mitochondria as possible in our bodies. And not just as a five-year-old, but into old age! This boosts health and performance on all levels. In this article we will explain how strength training is related to mitochondrial number and what you can do to build mitochondria.

Mitochondria structure

The so-called biogenesis is the construction of new mitochondria in our cells. This process is stimulated by an increased demand for ATP due to increased energy requirements. Through biogenesis, the network of mitochondria within the cell expands. This enlarged network is then able to produce more ATP and therefore more energy.

Biogenesis of mitochondria and strength training

The best way to stimulate the development of mitochondria is through the right training. When you train, the need for energy and therefore ATP increases. There is also an increased release of intracellular calcium. During the recovery phase, mitochondrial production is stimulated immediately after exertion. The body wants to prepare for the next round, so to speak, and does so by overcompensating. If you train correctly, you can stimulate the production of mitochondria in the cells. The question is, what training is the right training to build mitochondria?

Which training is suitable for building mitochondria?

While all types of exercise are good for mitochondrial health, not all types of exercise are equally effective. There are definitely differences here. There is no question that anaerobic exercise, such as jogging, swimming, or cycling, triggers the biogenesis (building) of mitochondria. This also results in improved muscular endurance, increased aerobic capacity, and increased resistance to fatigue. These are all things that can be attributed to the increased number and improved function of the mitochondria.

However, during strength training there is an increased signal for mitochondrial production. There is therefore a stronger stimulus for the cell to produce mitochondria than during aerobic training. This results in increased endurance, aerobic capacity, and improved resistance to fatigue compared to anaerobic training.

What's interesting is that when you combine both types of training, the buildup of mitochondria is higher than when you do one type of training in isolation. High-intensity interval training is the best way to stimulate mitochondrial biogenesis. Compared to aerobic training, the overall training volume with this type of training is lower, but muscle endurance is improved more and the production of ATP is stimulated to a greater extent compared to aerobic training. So on a cellular level, high-intensity interval training gives you the most for your efforts. It is therefore the most effective training in which you get the development of mitochondria into high gear in the shortest possible time.

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