An MD's 3 Underrated Tips To Optimize Mitochondria & Supercharge Longevity
If you're serious about increasing longevity, you need to prioritize mitochondrial health. Your mitochondria are like your cellular batteries—they provide the energy needed for your entire body to function. "They basically decide where your energy goes and whether you are in a state of survival or a state of thriving, flourishing, and reproducing," says personalized medicine physician Molly Maloof, M.D., author of The Spark Factor, on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast.
And guess what? You tend to lose mitochondria with age. That's why experts, including Maloof, encourage stimulating mitochondrial health to enhance longevity. A leading biohacker, Maloof shares some underrated methods to do just that:
Maloof is a huge fan of hot and cold therapy. She calls it a "mito-hormetic stressor," which essentially means a little bit of stress can make you stronger. When you engage in these practices, "you're literally sending the body signals to make more energy and also to recover from the stress," she explains.
However! The key here is to toggle just a little bit of stress. "One of the biggest downsides of the biohacking community is [that] people are like, 'Well, if 30 minutes of sauna is good, then an hour must be better,'" Maloof shares. "That is not what you need to do. In fact, a minimal effective dose is what you should be aiming for." She recommends 20 minutes of sauna with a two-minute cold plunge, if you're able.
Or just stick to sauna bathing, which has loads of health benefits on its own. And here's a list of our favorite portable saunas, if you're in the market.
It's true that exercise helps stimulate the production of mitochondria1—but you don't want to go overboard. It's all about balance, says Maloof. "If you go over 150 minutes of high-intensity interval training a week, you'll damage your mitochondria2," she declares. "I'm always trying to tell people to do less for better outcomes."
Now, this doesn't apply to moderate-intensity exercise, like, say, a brisk walk. "You can do literally unlimited amounts of moderate-intensity exercise and you won't hurt your body. But when it comes to the high-intensity stuff, that's when people start to break," she explains.
And when it comes to mitochondrial health, she argues that recovery is just as important as the exercise itself. She loves to lay on a PEMF mat or acupressure mat to reduce inflammation and ease muscle tension, but feel free to rest up in any way that feels good. Give your body a break—you deserve it.
Think social connection isn't crucial for your cells? Think again. "The fundamental truth is that we need social connection to thrive in this world," says Maloof. "Social connection is the greatest factor we know in longevity and happiness." In fact, research has shown that social isolation was associated with a higher risk of developing dementia.
That said, we should consider nurturing positive social relationships a "biohack" for longevity. "And I just don't think we prioritize it like we do weight, food, movement, and stress management," says Maloof. It's high time we change the narrative.
At this point, you're probably wondering: What about online connections versus IRL relationships? Well, Maloof doesn't knock social media entirely. For many, it's a helpful tool to maintain and discover those relationships. However, she calls it "processed social connection." It can fill you up, but it's not as wholesome as the real thing. "It's like processed food," she explains. "I don't completely eliminate processed foods, but I don't eat it for every meal. If I lived on it, I would be just sick."
The term mitochondria might send you back to high school biology, but if you're serious about increasing longevity and health span, it needs to reenter the lexicon. After all, your mitochondria are responsible for promoting cellular energy, and when it comes to your health, "everything is about energy at the end of the day," says Maloof.
We hope you enjoy this episode! And don't forget to subscribe to our podcast on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify, or Amazon Music!
Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.