By Dr. Jack Rutherford
If you were to list the benefits of exercise, would you include intracellular housecleaning? New research suggests that exercise speeds up the body’s garbage removal system, a benefit that might prove to be one of its most important.
The body accumulates garbage from the wear and tear of everyday living. Broken proteins, invasive viruses, bacteria, shreds of cellular membranes, among other things, create a virtual trash heap inside the cell. Normally, the cells sweep away this debris, using some of it for fuel. Through a process called autophagy, or “self-eating,” cells engulf the trash in cellular membranes and transport it to the lysosome, where it is burned by the cell for energy.
Without this efficient, trash-removal system, the body would literally become a garbage dump, eventually malfunctioning and causing death. Scientists believe that faulty autophagy mechanisms may contribute to the development of a whole host of diseases, including diabetes, cancer, Alzheimer’s and muscular dystrophy. It also is important to note that the slowing down of autophagy during middle age is believed to play a role in aging.
How exercise plays a role here is because of the fact that autophagy and metabolism are connected. In fact, there is considerable overlap according to Dr. Beth Levine, a Howard Hughes Medical Institute researcher at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “Autophagy affects metabolism and has wide-ranging, health-related benefits in the body, and so does exercise.” Levine’s work with lab mice showed that after just 30 minutes of running, the mice had developed more membranes that engulf debris inside the cells.
Exercise then seems to have the ability to accelerate autophagy. In other words, exercise helps the body’s natural system houseclean the cells. It also gives a whole new meaning to the phrase, “taking out the trash.”