As a self-proclaimed health & fitness fanatic, I did some research on the mitochondria over March Break for personal interest. The Mitochondria is an organelle in every living cell- its job is to produce energy, ATP, through respiration and regulate cellular metabolism. THE GREATER NUMBER OF MITOCHONDRIA THERE ARE IN A CELL, THE HIGHER THE METABOLISM OF THAT CELL (ie- the more calories it burns). Muscle cells have a higher number of mitochondria than, say, a fat cell would have (please see attached image- the fat cell on the right has just a few mitochondria, and the muscle cell on the left has LOTS of mitochondria)- MUSCLES ARE THE MOST METABOLICALLY ACTIVE TISSUES IN THE BODY- THEY BURN CALORIES LIKE CRAZY!!! The number of mitochondria you have are based on a “use it or lose it” principle: through sedentary behaviour and aging, the number of mitochondria in the cells decrease. You lose muscle as you age (or if you are sedentary), and fat cells have much fewer mitochondria than muscle cells. So what’s a girl to do??? Exercise is the best way to MAKE NEW MITOCHONDRIA!!! The top two activities to increase the number of mitochondria are as follows:

  • STRENGTH TRAIN!!! Heavy weights will build muscle, which in turn will increase the number of mitochondria. This will give your body more energy resources and BOOST METABOLISM!!!
  • HIIT CARDIO: Short, intense cardio “bursts” followed by an interval of rest are the second best way to build new mitochondria. I am sure you all know, this is my preferred method of cardio: HIIT training creates the most “afterburn”: this means your body will continue to burn calories at an accelerated rate for LONGER AFTER YOUR WORKOUT THAT A SLOW, STEADY STATE CARDIO SESSION. Plus, it does not put as much stress on your body (less likely to stress the thyroid and release cortisol, the stress hormone which can increase abdominal fat). How to do it: 1 minute intense on a treadmill, elliptical, bike, rower, followed by 1 minute at an easy pace. Repeat this for 6-10 cycles. This can be done at the end of a strength workout, or as a standalone workout on an off training day. You’ll be done in 25 minutes, and let’s face it, wouldn’t you rather do a shorter, intense session and be done with it, rather than slug away on a treadmill for an hour??

There is another important benefit of having lots of mitochondria: they release HGH (Human Growth Hormone)—this is the FOUNTIN OF YOUTH!!! Human growth hormone production decreases as you age, but it is still releases when you are sleeping and when you exercise, and more is released if you have a higher number of mitochondria. HGH is responsible for the regeneration of cells (ie- cellular turnover, which again, slows as we age), it builds muscle, slashes fat, and increases energy and libido, so it makes sense we want to keep producing as much of it as possible!

What’s the takeaway? Keep exercising!!! Especially lifting weights and performing HIIT cardio- keep at it, girls!!!

What’s your favorite HIIT cardio routine?

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