Exercise interval training in particular helps your mitochondria stave off old age

We all know that exercise keeps us healthy: it boosts the immune system, keeps the mind sharp, helps with a good sleep, maintains muscle tone, extends healthy lifespan, and overall makes us feel good and look good. Have you ever wondered if all exercises are created equal? At least, on the benefit of anti-aging, they are not.

Researchers have long suspected that the benefits of exercise extend down to the cellular level, but know relatively little about which exercises help cells rebuild key organelles that deteriorate with aging. A study published in Cell Metabolism found that exercise — and in particular high-intensity interval training in aerobic exercises such as biking and walking — caused cells to make more proteins for their energy-producing mitochondria and their protein-building ribosomes, effectively stopping aging at the cellular level.

In the study carried out by the researchers from Mayo Clinic, 36 men and 36 women from two age groups are enrolled into three different exercise programs. The volunteers are divided into “young” group (18-30 years old) and “older” group (65-80 years old). The volunteers are then divided into three exercise programs: high-intensity interval biking, strength training with weights, and combined strength training and interval training. The molecular makeups of the muscle cells from the biopsies taken from the volunteers’ thigh muscles are compared with samples from sedentary volunteers. The researchers also assessed the volunteers’ amount of lean muscle mass and insulin sensitivity.

They found that, while strength training was effective at building muscle mass, high-intensity interval training yielded the biggest benefits at the cellular level. The younger volunteers in the interval training group saw a 49% increase in mitochondrial capacity, and the older volunteers saw an even more dramatic 69% increase. Interval training also improved volunteers’ insulin sensitivity, which indicates a lower likelihood of developing diabetes. However, interval training was less effective at improving muscle strength, which typically declines with aging.

As we age, the energy-generating capacity of our cells’ mitochondria slowly decreases. By comparing data from people on different exercise programs, the researchers found that exercise encourages the cell to make more mitochondrial proteins and proteins responsible for muscle growth. In some cases, the high-intensity biking regimen seemed to reverse the age-related decline in mitochondrial function and proteins needed for muscle building.

Extensive researches have suggested that vigorous exercise remains the most effective way to bolster health. There are substantial basic science data to support that exercise is critically important to prevent or delay aging and there is no substitute for that. If people have to pick one exercise, the researchers recommended high-intensity interval training. However, a better exercise regime would be 3-4 days of interval training and then a couple days of strength training. Of course, any exercise was better than no exercise!

Thanks for reading.

Journal Reference: Matthew M. Robinson, Surendra Dasari, Adam R. Konopka, Matthew L. Johnson, S. Manjunatha, Raul Ruiz Esponda, Rickey E. Carter, Ian R. Lanza, K. Sreekumaran Nair. Enhanced Protein Translation Underlies Improved Metabolic and Physical Adaptations to Different Exercise Training Modes in Young and Old Humans. Cell Metabolism, 2017; 25 (3): 581 DOI: 10.1016/j.cmet.2017.02.009

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