Many people report that regular exercise increases their daily perceived energy levels.
It is also known that exercise has a protective effect against various brain disorders.
Researchers from the University of South Carolina may have found the mechanism that can explain these effects.
Mitochondria are called the cellular power plants, because they produce most of the chemical energy that cells require for their functioning.
During intense and prolonged exercise, the demand for energy production is increased manifold. It has been well established that muscle mass adapts to exercise by increasing its number of mitochondria to meet this increased demand.
But can exercise also also increase the number of mitochondria in other tissues?
The researchers put rats on an eight week exercise program. The rats trained six times a week for an hour on a treadmill.
The rats were euthanized after their last training session so the researchers could measure three markers of mitochondrial activity in the various areas in the brain.
SIRT-1 and PGC-1α are proteins that can bind and regulate DNA to increase the production of mitochondria. Citrate synthase is an enzyme that is involved in energy production. It is located in mitochondria and therefore often used as a marker for the amount of mitochondria present.
The increased values of these proteins indicate that production and activity of mitochondria was increased.
Exercise increases the number of mitocondria in the brain.
The researchers speculate that the increased mitochondria in the brain could contribute to increased performance by decreasing the experience of fatigue during exercise.
They also speculate that the increase in mitochondria may be protective against various brain disorders, where usually a decrease in brain mitochondria is observed.