Remember how good you felt in your twenties?  You were full of energy, vigor and lust.  Your responsibilities were few and just having fun was fairly routine.  The world was your oyster.  You really had the mojo-thing going on.  But life can get in the way.  Career, family and the demands of our modern life can make you feel tired, overwhelmed, stressed-out, grumpy, and lethargic.  Once you’ve lost some of your mojo, it can be hard to muster the enthusiasm to get it back.  But that is precisely when you must fight the hardest.  One of the best ways to get back into a groove is to become more physically active.

 The word “mojo” has origins in African language and refers to magic or voodoo to generate luck and power. In the early 20th century, it still referred to a source of vigor, energy, sexual potency and power, particularly for men. More recently, it has been expanded to mean power or influence of any kind.  An entire Austin Powers movie was devoted to his lost mojo and his desperate search to find it. He ultimately discovers his mojo is within, and that he had access to it all along.

 As we age, our capacity for physical exertion, as measured by maximal oxygen consumption, declines 10-15% per decade after age 20.  This is primarily due to relative physical inactivity and accumulation of body fat.   And, the average American gains 1 lb of fat every year between ages 30 to 60, and loses ½ lb of muscle.  This age-related deterioration in muscle mass, muscular strength and aerobic fitness correlates with the loss of independence in later life.  What can be done to recapture the feeling of your youth?  It’s simple; nothing that we do for ourselves to attain and maintain optimal health is more important than regular vigorous exercise. 

 Improving cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with lower risk of heart attack, stroke, and premature death.[1]  Resistance exercise retards the insidious age-related loss of muscle mass and strength that can lead to frailty.  Exercise helps you stand taller, feel more confident, sleep better, manage stress more effectively, manage your weight and boost libido. Walking speed has been correlated with survival among older adults.[2]

 Exercise has been called the closest thing we have to a fountain of youth.  It turns out that at the cellular level, exercise improves telomere maintenance by increasing the activity of the enzyme telomerase that builds and repairs telomeres.[3]  Telomeres are the part of your chromosomes that control aging.  They represent your biological clock.  When you are young your telomeres are longer and progressively shorten with age.  But the rate at which that shortening occurs is directly influenced by lifestyle choices.  So at any age, healthier individuals have longer telomeres than their unhealthy counterparts. There is also another way that exercise improves your health and keeps you young, and it has to do with something called mitochondria.  The latest evidence demonstrates that telomere dysfunction (shortening) impairs the production and function of mitochondria.[4] 

 Mitochondria are the power plants where fuel is burned, energy is produced and harmful free radicals are neutralized.  The number of mitochondria that you have in your cells determines your performance capacity.  But that number is not fixed.  While the process of synthesizing new mitochondria is complex, there are several pathways that have just recently been described.  The best known and most effective way to produce more mitochondria is with exercise.[5]  

 Mitochondrial production increases in direct proportion to the amount of physical activity performed.[6] [7] It is controlled by stimulating the master regulator of mitochondrial biogenesis known as PCG-1 alpha.  In addition to directly increasing the activity of PGC-1 alpha, exercise also stimulates the production of three intermediary factors.  Each of those intermediaries also directly stimulates the production of mitochondria, and they can be stimulated by nutritional interventions.  

 Resveratrol, a compound found in red wine, has been associated with anti-cancer activity, cardioprotective activity, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity, anti-viral activity and anti-neurodegenerative activity.[8] [9] [10]  Resveratrol, in addition to PGC-1 alpha, activates a class of genes called sirtuins that improve the efficiency of metabolism, reduce cellular stress and promote cellular survival.  It also results in increased production of nitric oxide (NO).

 Nitric oxide is produced by a layer of cells lining blood vessel walls and regulates the flow of blood to tissues.  When released, it causes the blood vessels to relax and expand, increasing blood flow and oxygen to tissues.  NO is necessary for a man to achieve an erection and is the pathway affected by medications like Viagra.  NO has recently been found to directly regulate the oxygen supply to mitochondria.[11]  NO is produced from the amino acid, L-arginine.  There are a number of animal and human studies documenting the beneficial effects following L-arginine supplementation.[12]  Those benefits are attributed to the increase in NO production.  The effectiveness of L-arginine can be enhanced by the addition of alpha-ketoglutaric acid (AKG).  AKG is more bioavailable. It’s faster acting and extends NO production, giving you a longer-lasting effect.

 Alpha Lipoic Acid (ALA) increases energy expenditures, improves insulin sensitivity, and reduces appetite.[13]  It functions by activating an enzyme (AMPK) that regulates cellular metabolism.  AMPK is the “fuel sensor” enzyme for the body and is the pathway through which ALA increases mitochondrial biogenesis.  A controlled release version has been tested and found to be safe in diabetics, and significantly improved measures of glucose control.[14]

 What’s the bottom line?  We all know, or at least have heard that exercise is good for your health.  Here you have a pretty detailed road map to the underlying cellular mechanisms that demonstrate what exercise does for your body.   Additionally, you see that directed nutritional interventions can activate one or more of the same pathways as exercise leading to the same beneficial effects.  Does that not mean that you should forgo exercise in favor of just taking those supplements?  No. The nutritional cocktail described should be taken in conjunction with a regular exercise program.  It is an adjunct to maximize the production of mitochondria and increase energy reserves.  

 Why should you bother?  More efficient energy production, increased exercise performance, reduced body fat, improves sexual performance, reduced inflammation and oxidative stress, and a lowered risk of developing one of the chronic diseases associated with aging.  The potential payback is huge and will impact every aspect of your health and well being.  You’ll look better, feel better and enjoy life more.  You may even get back your swagger.  So what are you waiting for?

[1] Kodama, S., et al. Cardiorespiratory Fitness as a Quantitative Predictor of All-Cause Mortality and Cardiovascular Events in Healthy Men and Women, JAMA. 2009;301(19):2024-2035

[2] Studenski S, et al. Gait Speed and Survival in older adults. JAMA 2011; 303: 50-58

[3] Physical Exercise Prevents Cellular Senescence in Circulating Leukocytes and in the Vessel Wall.  Circulation 2009 Nov 30.

[4] Sahin E, Colla S, Liesa M, et al. Telomere Dysfunction Induces Metabolic and Mitochondrial Compromise. Nature. Feb 2011; 470: 359-65

[5] Reznick RM, Shulman G. The role of AMP-activated protein kinase in mitochondrial biogenesis. J Physiol 2006; 574:33-39

[6] Baar K, Wende AR, Jones T, et al. Adaptations os skeletal muscle to exercise: rapid increase in transcriptional coactivator PGC-1. FASEB J 2002; 16:1879-86

[7] Coffey VG, Hawley JA. The molecular basis of training adaptation. Sports Med 2007; 37:737-763

[8] Baur J, Sinclair D. Therapeutic potential of resveratrol: the in vivo evidence. Nat Rev Drug Discov 2006; 5:493-506

[9] Harikumar K, Aggarwal B. Resveratrol: A multitargeted agent for age-associated chronic diseases. Cell Cycle 2008; 7:1-18

[10] Orallo F. Trans-resveratrol: a magical elixir of eternal youth? Curr Med Chem 2008; 15:1887-98

[11] Clementi E, Nisoli E. Nitric oxide and mitochondrial biogenesis: a key to ong term regulation of cellular metabolism. Comp Biochem Physiol A Mol Integra Physiol 2005; 142:102-110

[12] Preli R, Klein K, Herrington D. Vascular effects of dietary L-arginine supplementation. Atherosclerosis 2002; 162:1-15

[13] Xue B, Khan B. AMPK integrates nutrient and hormonal signals to regulate food intake and energy balance through effects in the hypothalamus and peripheral tissues. J Physiol 2006; 574:73-83

[14] Evans JL, Heyman CJ, et al. Pharmacokinetics, tolerability and fructosamine-lowering effect of a novel, controlled-release formulation of alpha lipoic acid. Endocr Pract 2002; 8:29-35