Exercise training is the stimulus for gains in aerobic capacity, endurance, strength, muscle mass and power to take place. But doing that hard work alone does not guarantee the results you want. Your improvements really occur outside of your workouts, during your recovery. If you do not recover well, you won’t see the results you expect.
All activity that we undertake and all bodily functions require energy (in the form of ATP). A byproduct of that energy production and usage is the generation of free radicals that can cause oxidative stress. Energy production occurs within the mitochondria of your cells, and the mitochondria also neutralize the free radicals produced. So the number of mitochondria, and how well they function, determines how much energy you can produce and how well you can recover. As we all experience, the ability to produce energy and recover declines with age.
At any given time, there is a finite amount of ATP your body can produce. If your exercise routine or other activity consumes a disproportionate amount of the energy available, that then would not leave enough for other bodily processes to function properly; including repair. Consequently, if you push yourself physically or mentally without sufficient recovery, your performance will drop and your results will tank. That is, if you don’t rest or sleep enough, you will not be able to regenerate sufficiently to maintain a high level of performance, and will age prematurely.
Very generally, endurance exercise produces a far greater number of free radicals (up to 100x more) than shorter duration exercise. Intense cognitive work for several hours can use a comparable amount of energy to running a marathon.
Contrary to much of what you may have been led to believe, free radicals are not always harmful. Without free radicals you cannot make energy. Antioxidants are good but you can have too much of them. If you fully suppressed all free radical production, you would die. Some free radicals are essential in the body for inflammation (healing), immune function and repair. In the repair and regeneration process, the free radicals that are necessary and transfer a specific electromagnetic energy to the repair process are referred to as excited oxygen molecules. If enough energy is not available repair and recovery cannot happen.
Understanding this whole process and its implications requires a pretty deep dive into the science. Every action performed in the body that is necessary to live is dependent on proteins. All enzymes, hormones, neurotrnsmitters, other chemical messengers or biomolecules are proteins. These proteins are folded in very intricate ways, often described as fancy balls of yarn, and are embedded within the water of the cell. As long as the necessary amino acids are present and the instructions encoded in the DNA are correct, the protein is created and folded. Why should you care? Because only the folded protein is capable of executing the function for which it is intended. Protein folding requires energy. Once the proteins have accomplished their function, some are damaged by the oxidative stress (free radicals) generated and they unfold. They must be refolded to regain their functionality. The more properly folded proteins you have in your body, the more youthful and energetic you will feel.
The energy for protein folding comes from the water molecules surrounding the protein. These water molecules are “ordered”; that is, lined up in a specific pattern (some may incorrectly refer to that as “structured water”). Energy is also required to put the water molecules in the ordered state, and that energy is generated within the cell by mitochondria. It is that energy production that creates the previously mentioned excited oxygen molecule (a free radical) which provides the energy for protein folding.
Avoiding the activities that produce oxidative stress is not practical or desirable, so the question is how can we assist the body to repair the damage and recover so that performance can remain high?
It is a delicate balance. You want to work out to maintain your strength, fitness and overall health. The younger, fitter and healthier you are, the greater capacity you have for repair. Even at your best, you cannot repair all of the damage, hence the aging process. But doing things to positively influence ATP production will help. So the harder you train, the more dedicated you need to be to mindfulness, clean eating, taking supplemental antioxidants, meditation, Tai Ch, regular massagesi and allowing yourself sufficient time to rest and recover.
There is exciting new technology which purports to augment the natural biological signal to regenerate and repair oxidative stress damage and ultimately boost cellular activity. Studies have shown that it generates an excited oxygen molecule that is absorbed by water (thereby making ordered water), and delivers it via inhaled water vapor. It should help you recover faster and more effectively so you derive greater benefit from your workouts and age more youthfully. Stay tuned for a follow-up after we have had the opportunity to fully test it out.