Gain More Energy by Taking Care of Your Mitochondrial Health
Small Cell, Big Impact: Why We Need to be Talking About Mitochondrial Health
Stress, Fatigue, and our Mitochondria
Very few things affect our ability to function at work, at home, and in our daily lives quite as much as fatigue and exhaustion. For some people this can be as mild as yawning throughout the day and feeling a bit “blah” when the evening rolls around, but for others the physical (and mental) symptoms they feel from being overly fatigued can be debilitating. This is all before we even take into consideration other mitigating factors on energy levels such as chronic health conditions or lifestyle demands. There can be many underlying causes of fatigue and one key factor that is often overlooked, if it is even brought up at all, is mitochondrial health.
The powerhouse of the cell
Even if you are not 100% sure what mitochondria are, you likely have heard them referenced as the “powerhouses” of our cells. They are responsible for generating the energy our bodies (and brains!) need to carry out all our daily functions, big and small. These tiny structures exist within each one of our cells, and their primary function is to provide the cell with energy through the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP). When our mitochondria aren’t at their healthiest, they aren’t able to produce as much ATP and it is this deficiency on a small scale (within our cells) that can lead to the big scale impacts of fatigue and overall exhaustion!
Why healthy mitochondria are important for combating fatigue
Cells that are working harder throughout the day are going to need more ATP to function, such as during times of stress and illness, or exercise. So it just makes sense that when we are fatigued, it is often because our mitochondria are not able to produce enough ATP to meet our body’s demands. This can be due to a variety of reasons, including poor diet, lack of exercise, chronic stress, and environmental toxins. All of these factors can either cause damage to our mitochondria or inhibit them from working at their best. It is this damage or inhibition that leads to mitochondrial dysfunction, making them less efficient at producing the ATP that our cells need.
Not only that, but our mitochondria also play a critical role in regulating our metabolism. The way that they produce ATP (the energy source for our cells) is through breaking down nutrients from the food we eat. When our mitochondria are not functioning properly, our metabolism can become sluggish and less efficient; yet another cause which leads to fatigue and exhaustion. Our mitochondrial health has even been linked to insulin resistance and Type 2 diabetes!
How to support your mitochondrial health
Luckily, there are many things we can do to support the health of our mitochondria and help us feel more energized throughout the day!
1. Eat a healthy, balanced diet
One of the best things you can do for your mitochondria is to eat a diet that is rich in micronutrients and antioxidants. Mitochondria are highly sensitive to oxidative stress, which can damage their structure and how they function. Eating a diet that is full of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and healthy fats can help to reduce oxidative stress and in turn support your mitochondrial health. Challenge yourself to add as many colors of the rainbow as possible to your plate.
Your mitochondria love healthy fats, so keeping a bowl of nuts around is always a good idea as a healthy snack. And rather than eating around the clock, try to limit your food intake to a 12-hour window so that your mitochondria can repair during the night.
Now, I’m not saying that you have to give up all your “treats” but do be conscious of what kinds of foods make up the bulk of your overall diet. The old saying “you are what you eat” is not totally wrong!
It’s better to eat a little bit of everything rather than a huge quantity of just one vegetable. Mix it up!
Here are a couple of foods that your mitochondria like especially well: Green tea, almonds, dark chocolate, olive oil, and avocado.
2. Exercise regularly
The positive impact of physical activity on all aspects of our health cannot be overstated – which is probably why it shows up as a solution in so many of my Q&A’s! Regular exercise has been shown to improve mitochondrial function and actually increase the number of mitochondria in our cells. More mitochondria = more ATP production = larger capacity for energy consumption. Even moderate exercise, such as walking or yoga, can be beneficial for mitochondrial health which makes this positive impact pretty accessible for people, even if they are just starting to add physical activity to their routines.
In addition to moderate activity, your mitochondria also love HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training). Even just running at high speed for ONE minute every day will make a difference. So, if you see me running around at a playground at full speed rest assured – I’m just trying to give my mitochondria a good workout.
3. Manage your long-term or chronic stress
We have spoken before about the positive benefits that short-term stress (under 30-minute in duration) can have on our immune system, and even our productivity. The evil-twin of short-term stress is chronic stress, and this can be a major contributor to poor mitochondrial health and mitochondrial dysfunction. Chronic stress activates our body’s “fight-flight-or-freeze” response which, in turn, causes spikes in glucose, cortisol, and the other related metabolic by-products of this stress. It is these molecules that can cause damage to our mitochondria. Practicing stress-reducing techniques, such as meditation, yoga, or deep breathing, and my favourite: cold water therapy, will really help support good, robust mitochondrial health. Moreover, these techniques can reduce your biological age and who doesn’t want to age backwards?
4. Get enough sleep
Sleep is so vital for our physical, mental, and cellular wellbeing! It is the time where our bodies will repair and regenerate our cells – this includes our mitochondria. During sleep, our bodies produce a hormone called melatonin, which has been shown to protect against mitochondrial damage due to it being an antioxidant. In fact, melatonin is the only antioxidant that is actually able to be selectively taken up through the membranes of our mitochondria, making it super important to our cellular health. Aim to get at least 7-8 hours of sleep each night to support your mitochondrial health, combat fatigue, and help with good hormone regulation. I don’t recommend that you run to the pharmacy to get melatonin supplements now as they can disrupt your hormones. Natural is always best!
5. Take in some sunlight
Red-light has been shown to have a positive impact on overall mitochondrial health and function. It can help increase the production of ATP and help reduce oxidative stress! Red-light is also really great for other aspects of our neuro-health which is why it’s good to expose yourself to the late afternoon/evening sunlight.
I always recommend trying to start the day with 2-20 minutes of exposure to sunlight first thing in the morning. That is because this morning blue light exposure helps with our brain’s production of melatonin roughly 12 hours later! This is one of the ways that light exposure helps to reduce oxidative stress, one of the causes of mitochondrial dysfunction.
6. If you choose to, supplement wisely
I have said it before, but I am not the kind of person who wants to solve all of their issues with a supplement, medication, or special gadget. If there is a body or brain-based solution for the problem, I like to start there first! There are however a variety of supplements that can support mitochondrial health and have been shown to improve fatigue in some patients. Everything we take or ingest always has a side-effect, nothing happens in a vacuum, so it is important to talk to your healthcare provider before starting any new supplements, especially if you are taking any medications already!
Supporting your brain and body from the inside out
Focusing on and supporting mitochondrial health can be an effective, and relatively accessible way to help combat fatigue and exhaustion. These healthy habits will not only benefit your mitochondria, but will also help nurture your neurobalance, improve your mood, and decrease your stress! With so many positives, it just makes sense to try incorporating these small and actionable changes into your routine. With a little effort, and attention to our mitochondrial health, we can improve our energy levels and feel more vibrant and alive!
**You know your body best – so it is important to listen to what it is telling you and seek medical advice if you’re experiencing chronic fatigue or exhaustion that doesn’t improve with lifestyle changes.
Want more brain-friendly tips?
Check out my Wall Street Journal bestselling book, The Brain-Friendly Workplace: Why Talented People Quit and How to Get Them to Stay. And if you felt inspired, please leave an Amazon review. I read every single one and would love to see yours there!
I also offer virtual keynotes to provide companies with science-based insights that you can put into practice immediately in order to work and live smarter, better, and happier. Find out more about my keynotes here.