The Weekly Thread: mitochondrial dysfunction and disease, movement snacks, and life passes us by as we postpone.

When you hear the word “metabolism”, I’m guessing the first thing that comes to mind for many of you is its relationship to one’s ability to burn calories, or at minimum, something along those lines. 

And this correlation is entirely true, as a faster metabolism is directly linked to a greater ability to burn calories, however, there is a broader picture to paint about metabolism and its role in our overall health. 

Let’s unpack the link between poor cellular metabolism and increased risk of disease. 

A “calorie” is technically a unit of energy that is consumed and is primarily what the body uses for energy. 

Therefore, if calories equal “energy”, a faster metabolism means your body is more efficient at utilizing energy, and a slower metabolism is indicative of being less efficient at utilizing energy. 

This goes all the way down to our core cellular level. 

From a systemic perspective then, one’s metabolism is actually how efficiently their cells, namely their mitochondria, utilize energy. 

The Mitochondria aka “The Cell’s Furnace”

The mitochondria is often referred to as “the cell’s furnace” or “the powerhouse of the cell”. This is because it's the primary site for cellular respiration, which is the process by which cells convert glucose and oxygen into energy (ATP) that fuels cellular functions. 

The process of cellular respiration is key here. 

It’s in this equation of taking glucose and oxygen and converting it into cellular energy (ATP) that is behind the term “metabolism”. 

The more efficient your mitochondria is at utilizing your energy input (glucose), or the calories you consume, and converting that into actual ATP, the faster your metabolism is. 

When you understand this equation, you can see why a faster metabolism is directly linked to burning calories more efficiently, and conversely, why a slower metabolism is directly linked to burning calories less efficiently. 

However, the impacts of slow cellular metabolism go far beyond a greater propensity to gain weight due to one’s inefficiency in burning calories (although, there’s also that)

Poor cellular metabolism characterized as “mitochondrial dysfunction” or “metabolic syndrome” is really the soft white underbelly of pretty much all of the most common chronic and fatal diseases in the U.S.

Metabolic Syndrome and Disease

Fairly recent research from the American College of Cardiology suggests that 93% of Americans have suboptimal metabolic health. 

Yes, that’s correct, it appears that only about 7% of us have optimal metabolic health, and therefore, the other 93% have suboptimal metabolic health, and thus, are at an increased risk of most diseases. 

In fact, 9 of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States are metabolic related, and the only primary cause of death in the top ten that isn’t metabolic related is accidents/medical error. 

Now, I do want to stress that mitochondrial dysfunction isn’t an either/or, as you can have varying degrees of mitochondrial dysfunction. 

For example, of the estimated 93% of Americans that have suboptimal metabolic health, there are some that may have 2% mitochondrial dysfunction, some that may have 40% mitochondrial dysfunction, and some that have even higher levels of mitochondrial dysfunction. 

Think of it similar to diabetes (which is most definitely a metabolic related disease), you don’t one day not have diabetes, and then the next day wake up and have diabetes. 

No, you slowly become more and more insulin resistant over time, until you are fully insulin resistant, and then are diagnosed with diabetes. 

The same goes for mitochondrial dysfunction. The greater and greater the mitochondrial dysfunction over time, it eventually gets to a point where it’s so severe that it results in what is known as “metabolic syndrome”, and at this point, the risk of those 9 out of top 10 fatal diseases that are metabolic related increases dramatically. 

Here’s a quick summary (from a meathead) of what goes on inside your body when you have suboptimal metabolic health. 

✔️ Metabolically efficient cells produce energy inside the cell at very high levels. In a metabolically healthy cell, the energy production is efficient and stays inside the cell. 

✔️ In a cell with poor metabolic health, and thus, is inefficient at producing energy (ATP), much of the ATP is released outside the cell where it doesn’t belong. This release of ATP outside the cell triggers an immune response, which then triggers an inflammatory response, and the mitochondria has to work even harder to produce sufficient amounts of ATP for the cell. The harder the mitochondria has to work, the more it releases Reactive Oxygen Species (ROS), which cause oxidative stress on cells and lead to premature aging. 

Sounds pretty chaotic right?

And the greater the mitochondrial dysfunction, the more extreme the above pro-inflammatory, pro-ROS producing process is. 

The human body is made up of 30-40 trillion cells.

If all 30-40 trillion of these cells have suboptimal metabolic health, and thus, are going through the above response to some extent, it’s easy to see why at the core of the most common fatal diseases in the U.S. such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, Alzheimer’s, diabetes, et cetera is poor metabolic health. 

Improving Mitochondrial Health and Reversing Metabolic Syndrome

There are now over 100 different specialties in medicine that a doctor can practice in. 

Despite all these specialties, our rate of disease continues to go up in the United States. 

I would argue, and this is just my opinion, that with all this specialization, we’re getting too focused on treating symptoms, and not getting to the root cause of our health concerns, conditions, and diseases. 

Poor metabolic health is not a symptom of Alzheimer’s.

It’s not a symptom of diabetes. 

Nor is it a symptom of heart disease, cancer, or liver disease. 

Ideally, you want to be proactive and get ahead of these diseases before they develop, and to do that, you need to address your overall metabolic health. 

To use an analogy from Dr. Andrew Huberman, if 90% of automobiles came off the assembly line not running properly over time, you wouldn’t address it by fixing the little things that went wrong with the cars and just accept that almost all of them weren’t running properly from the outset. 

No, you’d try to get to the root cause of the problem to ensure the cars come off the assembly line running properly. 

Movement snacks FTW

Amidst all the specialized medicine, we’re losing the functional approach to medicine, which is approaching the entire body as an interconnected system. 

A functional approach gets to the core of what keeps the entire system healthy; gut health, hormonal balance, and yes, metabolic health. The individual with the functional approach knows that if you take care of the core of what keeps the entire system functioning properly, that most underlying health issues and concerns tend to take care of themselves. 

Think of and approach muscle contractions like functional medicine. 

Muscle is your main glucose disposal agent, and simply put, the more muscle contractions you get in a day, the more metabolically efficient you will be. 

This is as easy as walking. 

Furthermore, the research continues to point to a greater benefit in getting as many muscle contractions throughout the day as possible, versus, just going to the gym, hitting it hard, and then sitting for the majority of the day. 

If you go to the gym, and hit it hard for 60 minutes, sure, you increase your glucose disposal far more than you would in a 5 minute walk, but once that workout is over, and you are no longer getting muscle contractions, that benefit is gone for the rest of the day. 

Whereas this idea of lighter, less intense, but more frequent “movement snacks” throughout the day still provides the benefits from muscle contractions, but all throughout the day. If muscle contractions are medicine, these “movement snacks” throughout the day are like a continual pulse of preventive medicine all day long. 

Research suggests that getting multiple 2-5 minute bouts of movement, or as I’m calling them, “movement snacks”, is the best way to improve your metabolic efficiency. 

Taking walks after a meal have been shown to have pretty dramatic impacts on lowering your blood sugar. In the evening, this is also a great way to relax the mind and set your circadian rhythm for better sleep. 

Going for a 2-3 minute walk every 30 minutes, or for 5 minutes every hour, or doing some body weight squats for 2-3 minutes every 30-60 minutes, or pushups, etc, is a more effective strategy at improving your metabolic health than doing a super intense 60 minutes at the gym, and then sitting all day. 

Sure, there are benefits to getting an intense workout in still, especially in the form of workouts that incorporate resistance training as I will throughout the week, but from a longevity perspective (and it does appear also for the waistline), that focusing more heavily on getting many “movement snacks” in throughout the day is most optimal. 

I wrote a pretty complete guide that goes deeper into the importance of muscle contractions, especially through resistance training (and this can include body weight exercises) for living longer, and without disease. If you’d like to check it out CLICK HERE. 

If you look at all the “blue zones”, the areas of the world where culturally, people typically live much longer than most, and without disease, they get lots of movement throughout the day, most of which is walking. 

Even if, and truthfully, especially if you have a job where you are sitting at a desk all day, it’s important to get some movement or resistance in every 30 minutes to hour at the most to maintain proper metabolic health. Again, this could be a 2-3 minute walk around the office, or some body weight squats or pushups. 

Berberine for Metabolic Health

In a final point on improving metabolic health through more efficient glucose disposal, there is a molecule called berberine that you can take in supplemental form that is an absolute powerhouse at improving metabolic health. 

In fact, it’s also been shown through some top notch scientific research to be far more effective at treating atherosclerosis (plaque buildup) which is a leading cause of heart disease than statins, and was even recommended by the scientists performing the study as a therapeutic for treating atherosclerosis over statin medication. 

To read more on the tremendous benefits and research behind berberine as an anti-aging molecule CLICK HERE.

The “Press”

This week’s functional movement to help you get stronger is an upper body pressing movement. 

Everything I outline in this segment (with video tutorial links) are movements that require no more than a single kettlebell, and can be done anywhere, and don’t need to be part of an actual exercise regimen. 

If not part of an exercise regimen, just work these movements into your life and day throughout the week as “movement snacks”, as when put together over time, they will build functional strength, increase mobility, and boost your metabolism. 

All things that will benefit us tremendously as we age. 

These movements are ideal for kids and young teens to work on specific mobility and reduce risk of injury in sports, all the way up to the eldest of adults. 

An upper body pressing movement refers to any exercise or movement that involves pushing a weight or resistance away from your body using your upper body muscles. These movements primarily target the muscles of the chest, shoulders, and triceps, and they help to develop upper body strength and muscular endurance.

Here are some upper body pressing movements that can be done with a single kettlebell:

1️⃣ Kettlebell Shoulder Press. Hold the kettlebell at shoulder height with your palm facing forward, and press it overhead, fully extending your arm. Lower the kettlebell back down to shoulder level and repeat. CLICK HERE to watch a quick example. 

2️⃣ Kettlebell Push Press. Start with the kettlebell at shoulder level, perform a slight dip in your knees, and then explosively press the kettlebell overhead by using the momentum generated from your lower body. Control the descent and repeat. I really like the added “power” you develop with the movement, which is great for functional strength. Not only being able to move weight, but moving it with explosiveness and power is extremely beneficial. CLICK HERE to watch an example.. 

3️⃣ Kettlebell Floor Press. Lie on your back on the floor or a bench, holding the kettlebells in each hand. With your elbows on the floor and bent at 90 degrees, press the kettlebells straight up until your arms are fully extended. Lower them back down and repeat. CLICK HERE to watch an example. 

“As we postpone, life speeds us by”.


The universe is objective. 

It does not discern. 

It doesn’t play favorites, 

It does not judge, nor discriminate. 

It just keeps moving. 

There will always be reasons (aka “excuses”) to put off a big decision, to not put fear aside and take that proverbial plunge with something you know you should do. 

The timing will never be just right. 

The fear of loss, of being vulnerable, of getting outside your comfort zone is strong. 

But so is regret. 

The regret of not taking that plunge, of giving in to fear, or waiting for the right time, that never seems to come. 

While you postpone, the rest of the world keeps moving. 

I’ve personally found that life turns out best, and the universe most conspires with me, when I simply keep it moving forward. 

The more you take action, the luckier you will seem to get, and the more it will seem as though the universe is truly conspiring with you.