20 June 2013

Fitness and the mitochondria

by Fleur Borrelli, Nutritionist

How effective we are at exercising aerobically all depends on our mitochondria. Mitochondria are little sub-units, known as organelles, inside our cells. These are the power-houses of the cell, the engines, where make most of our ATP which is the body’s energy currency is generated. Apart from producing energy for us, they coordinate other actions such as becoming a skin cell or a muscle cell. They also manage cell death which needs to occur in a way that does not cause collateral damage and can even be beneficial to us.

Our mitochondria are so vital to health that we need to treat them well. They are semi-autonomous and reproduce independently of the cells they live in a way that is very similar to a bug. In fact microbiologists believe that at the beginning of time they might have lived freely as bacteria, until they took up resident in larger cells. They even have their own DNA to produce proteins which help our cells to work.

When we engage in physical activity, they are working away for us so that we can keep on going. A quick sprint down the road will probably not be enough to need them but anything longer and they come into their own. Once we are moving at a slower pace, then we start to use our aerobic system which depends on oxygen reaching the muscles. Glucose, which is the body’s energy source, is broken down in the cell in a series of chemical reactions so that the mitochondria can generate lots of ATP with the help of oxygen. Typically the human body contains less than a hundred grams of ATP at any given time but because of a complex recycling system, we can use up to a hundred kilograms per day.

The more mitochondria we have, the more energy we can make and the fitter we become. Sadly as we age, this becomes more difficult and our poor old power houses become susceptible to free radical attack. If we are under pressure then the demand for energy can be too much for our recycling system and this can affect our stamina and performance. We then have to revert to using another energy system which can cause a build-up of acid and painful muscles. Other things can damage the mitochondria are nutrient deficiencies – particularly the B vitamins, toxins, bacteria and viruses.

One of the ways we can increase our mitochondria is through aerobic exercise. By exercising in this way, we produce free radicals known as Reactive Oxygen Species. It is these free radicals that send signals to the cell to say it needs to adapt to the demands being placed on it by increasing mitochondria and being more energy efficient. We can also help this by exercising on an empty a stomach as the more our cells realise that there are lean times and times of plenty, the more they have to step up to the plate.

For more information or appointments, you can contact Fleur at The Putney Clinic of Physical Therapy on 0208 789 3881 or send an email to info@putneyclinic.co.uk or visit the Putney Clinic website.

Nutrition and Superfood website: www.nutritionandsuperfood.co.uk
Telephone: 07766 883 522 for a free consultation.

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