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The Role of Exercise in Mitochondrial Health: Halting the Aging Process

Thursday, August 10th 2023 10:00am 7 min read
Dr. Jessica Peatross dr.jess.md @drjessmd

Hospitalist & top functional MD who gets to the root cause. Stealth infection & environmental toxicity keynote speaker.

Mitochondria, often referred to as the powerhouses of our cells, play a crucial role in energy production and are intimately involved in the aging process. As we age, the function of mitochondria declines, leading to various age-related diseases and a decline in overall health. However, emerging research suggests that exercise can be a powerful tool in preserving mitochondrial health and even reversing age-related deterioration. This article explores the impact of exercise on mitochondrial function, focusing on its therapeutic actions in various conditions, including disease, athletic performance, chronic fatigue syndrome, mitochondrial diseases, mitochondrial myopathies, statin-induced pathologies, and mitochondrial dysfunction.


Exercise has been shown to have a profound impact on mitigating the risk and progression of several age-related diseases. In a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society, Lee et al. (2018) found that regular exercise significantly reduced the incidence of chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Exercise exerts its beneficial effects by enhancing mitochondrial function, reducing oxidative stress, and improving cellular metabolism, thereby slowing down the aging process at the molecular level.

Athletic performance

Athletes rely heavily on their mitochondria to produce energy efficiently, and optimizing mitochondrial function is crucial for achieving peak performance. A study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology by Larsen et al. (2012) demonstrated that endurance training enhances mitochondrial oxidative capacity in skeletal muscle, leading to improved athletic performance. Exercise-induced adaptations in mitochondrial content, structure, and function contribute to increased ATP production, better utilization of oxygen, and improved muscle endurance.

Chronic fatigue syndrome

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a complex disorder characterized by persistent fatigue and reduced exercise capacity. Several studies have shown that CFS patients have impaired mitochondrial function. However, exercise has emerged as a potential therapeutic intervention. A randomized controlled trial by White et al. (2011) published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine demonstrated that graded exercise therapy improved mitochondrial function and reduced fatigue in CFS patients. Exercise helps to restore mitochondrial bioenergetics and alleviate symptoms by promoting mitochondrial biogenesis and enhancing cellular energy production.

Mitochondrial diseases and mitochondrial myopathies:

Mitochondrial diseases are a group of genetic disorders characterized by impaired mitochondrial function. Exercise has shown promise in managing these conditions by promoting mitochondrial biogenesis and improving energy metabolism. A study by Taivassalo et al. (2001) published in the Annals of Neurology demonstrated that exercise training improved muscle function and mitochondrial capacity in patients with mitochondrial myopathy. Exercise-induced adaptations help compensate for mitochondrial dysfunction and improve overall physical function in individuals with mitochondrial diseases.

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