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Bioenergetics: the secret to ageing well (and losing weight!)

image-tools (86)It’s the question that every one of us would love answered: what is the secret to staying fit, healthy and well as we age?

Associate Professor Ian Trounce believes the key to healthy ageing lies in a field of science known as cellular bioenergetics.

“Bioenergetics focuses on how our cells make the energy they need to keep working properly. The chemical used by cells as an energy source is called ATP. Some cells don’t need a lot, others need a lot all the time,” said Associate Professor Trounce.

Along with Professor Jonathan Crowston, Associate Professor Trounce is investigating what happens to the major energy-producers in cells, the mitochondria, as we age.

“Mitochondria are like the cell’s batteries,” said Associate Professor Trounce. “If we eat too much all the time or don’t get enough exercise, those batteries run down and get rusty. Keeping the batteries charged with a moderate diet and lots of activity is the key.”

Keeping the right balance between energy intake (diet) and output (exercise) helps maintain quality control in our cellular pathways. This means that not only will a healthy lifestyle help you live longer and maintain a healthy weight, it is also thought to protect against diseases including diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease and neurodegenerative diseases including Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease and glaucoma.

Professor Crowston and Associate Professor Trounce’s team, including postdoctoral fellows Dr Vicki Chrysostomou and Dr Nicole Van Bergen, has shown that decreased calorie intake and increased exercise in mice can improve the mitochondria’s capacity to produce energy. They believe this recipe will work equally well in other mammals, including humans.

“But most of humanity would prefer not to know this. We like our food too much!” he says. The message is simple; “Don’t panic if you feel hungry. Try ignoring it.  It goes away and your body says, ‘Oh well, no food around right now, better burn some stored food [fat].'”

In other words, the same tried-and-tested advice for achieving and maintaining a healthy weight also can also help beat ageing and age-related diseases.

“Just eat far less, but feel free to eat a lot occasionally. And keep moving,” concludes Associate Professor Trounce.