Today was a good energy day. I went for a hike, spent time in my garden, and I just felt good. On the hike I met a friendly person who had nice energy, and while working in the garden I felt the peaceful, calm energy that nature imbues on a warm, sunny day. And then later in the day, I was even able to muster enough energy to tackle a few household chores.
Energy. We often talk about our energy as if it is mystical force coursing through our bodies. We feel it, we know it when we have it, and of course we know how it feels to be low on energy. While having energy to live is truly an amazing gift, it is not altogether mysterious. We have our mitochondria to thank. Our body has 17 trillion cells, and inside each of those cells lie anywhere from hundreds to thousands of mitochondria, depending on the energy needs of the particular cell. Mitochondria take in the nutrients we eat in the form of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins, and to make a long story short, create “ATP,” the high energy molecule each cell uses to live.
If mitochondria create that “good energy” we experience, it is worth our while to consider how we treat our mitochondria. The understanding of how mitochondria influence human health is a rapidly growing area of scientific research; here are some practical tips from this research to help you support your mitochondria:
1. Exercise. Yes, yet another benefit of moving one’s body. Regular exercise is associated with greater number and better functioning mitochondria. And, having more mitochondria is associated with longevity and less medical problems than those who have fewer mitochondria. In other words, exercise increases the number of mitochondria in your body, and more mitochondria increases the odds for a higher quality, longer life.
2. Caloric deprivation. Maintaining a relatively lean body composition as one ages promotes “biogenesis,” or creation, of more mitochondria. This is supported by research: both in laboratory mice as well as in humans, having a lean body mass is associated with longevity. Does this mean we should be starving ourselves? I don’t think so; what it implies to me is that in order to age well, it behooves us to be mindful of our lifestyle such that we maintain a healthy body weight.
3. Put good things in your body, and avoid toxins. As it turns out, mitochondria are delicate little structures that are easily damaged. The individual molecules that perform the biochemical reactions needed to create energy, as well as the DNA within mitochondria, are easily damaged by environmental toxins. While it seems obvious to suggest that one should avoid ingesting such toxins as heavy metals and pesticides, I suggest you also include on that list less obvious substances such as junk food, fast food, pop, and other highly processed foods. Diets rich in these types of food are associated with a wide variety of diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. Not surprisingly, there is a growing body of research linking mitochondrial dysfunction with these very same diseases.
In the clinic, patients occasionally ask me what would help them have more energy. Now you know the secret: support your mitochondria!
Want to know more? Check out my podcast on Mitochondrial Medicine.