Exercise Increases the Number of Mitochondria in your Brain

October 02, 2011

Exercise Increases the Number of Mitochondria in your Brain 

 ReferenceAmerican Jr Physiology, Sept 2011 Competency:  Brain Health 

 Mitochondria are your energy factories.  Muscle cells have about 200 of them each while heart cells have as many as 5000.   Some larger brain cells have than many too.  Without the production of energy, we couldn’t think, move or function.   It’s been an established fact for years now that regular exercise will increase the number of mitochondria in your muscles.  That’s part of the secret to exercise helping you lose weight.  Mitochondria can’t turn on and off. They constantly hum along at a low level, even when you aren’t exercising much.  When you exercise and induce a few more to form, you increase the rate of “background burn”. 

 What about your brain?  Your brain doesn’t pump iron.  What happens to your brain when you exercise?  Does it reap a benefit?  Well, that experiment has never been done until now.  (And now, only in mice.  It’s hard to get most humans to give a sample of their brain for an experiment.  Teenagers might, for the right inducement).  This experiment, just published, took two groups of mice.  One was given regular exercise by running on a treadmill for an hour a day. The others had the same handling but no exercise.  

After 8 weeks they took “samples” of muscle and brain tissue to look for mitochondrial changes.  They found multiple markers of mitochondrial stimulation that correlate with the total number of mitochondria . (It’s extraordinarily difficult to count the mitochondria in brain cells as they are such thin, filamentous things and don’t separate out into nice round packages.)  Some of those markers have names like PPAR (peroxisome proliferator-activated receptor), silent information regulator T1 and citrate synthase.  When the mice were tested by how far they could run, the exercised ones had increased their running ability to about 50% over the sedentary.   74 to 126 minutes. 

 This experiment tells us something is going on with exercise that affects your brain in a very beneficial way.  There must be some net effect of exercise that is circulating in your blood and signals messages into your brain, across the blood-brain barrier, and into the mitochondria to start proliferating and multiplying.  Pretty cool, huh?  We haven’t specifically found that circulating humor specifically yet, but it is likely to be a multifactorial mix.   It’s could, for example, be something to do with osteocalcin, (would be my guess) as that has been found to be stimulated by exercise with a hugely beneficial effect on your blood sugar. 

 WWW. What will work for me?  This is a big boost to my mental task of convincing myself to exercise.  I can just count off the mitochondria in my brain as I pant and puff up that hill.  I’m finding that I can run, every day, but the task is mostly mental.  I need to constantly feed my thoughts and my focus with positive images of benefit and good outcomes.  The thought that my mitochondria are all cheering me on gives me some comfort.  If only it was light at 6 in the morning. 

 Written by John E. Whitcomb MD Brookfield Longevity and Healthy Living Clinic 17585 W North Ave, Suite # 160 Brookfield, WI 53045