Lausanne, Switzerland - December 1st, 2016. We all know that exercise is good for us. What’s less clear is exactly how exercise affects the body’s metabolism.

Mitochondria are the ‘engines’ of our cells, converting the food we eat into energy. People who do a lot of sport have higher numbers of mitochondria in the cells of their body. People who are inactive, infirm or obese have far fewer, so their cells have less ‘power’ to produce energy from food.

Two years ago, NIHS (the Nestlé Institute of Health Sciences) revealed the results of its research on an enzyme (AMPK) that controls the energy balance in the body. Today, a new study published in Cell Metabolism continues this research to further our understanding of the beneficial effects of exercise on the body’s metabolism.

This joint study between NIHS, UNIL (University of Lausanne) and EPFL (École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne), as part of a local scientific initiative (LIMNA) to connect different scientific communities in Lausanne, is the result of a clinical trial looking at how exercise affects the cell mitochondria of older people. So far, attempts to mimic exercise through nutrition by simply increasing muscle mitochondrial content have not generally provided the desired outcomes: while more mitochondria are generally produced, other benefits in terms of cardiovascular function, lipid and glucose homeostasis were missing.  

This latest research reveals that exercise not only increases the number of mitochondria; it also causes mitochondrial proteins linked to energy production to cluster together, allowing them to produce energy more effectively.

“If we are to impinge on the effects of exercise through targeted nutritional intervention, we would need not only to facilitate an increase in the number of mitochondria, but also to remodel their protein landscape in order to optimise mitochondrial function”, explains Carles Canto, the scientist at NIHS who jointly led the study.

Kei Sakamoto, the Head of Diabetes and Circadian Rhythms at NIHS, the group which leads the AMPK study that was previously published in the journal Chemistry & Biology, adds: “By building on our previous research into AMPK, this study brings us one step closer to explaining the molecular mechanism by which exercise brings about health benefits, and to the future development of nutritional solutions that could echo the effects of exercise on the body’s metabolism. This research may one day lead to an improved understanding of how nutritional approaches may be applied for protection against metabolic disorders and cardiovascular complications. As a result, we could help people improve energy balance by triggering some of the same cellular mechanisms normally activated by exercise”.

This work is aligned with the NIHS mission to better define and maintain health through targeted nutrition, exploring a range of avenues to better understand metabolic homeostasis in relation to obesity and diabetes, and whether this can be modulated through diet and nutrition.

About NIHS:

NIHS is a biomedical research institute, part of Nestlé’s global R&D network, dedicated to fundamental research aimed at understanding health and disease and developing science-based, targeted nutritional solutions for the maintenance of health. To achieve its aim, NIHS employs state-of-the-art technologies and biological models to characterise health and disease with a holistic and integrated approach. The ultimate goal of the Institute is to develop knowledge that can empower people to better maintain their health through nutritional approaches, especially in relation to their molecular profile and lifestyle status.



Greggio C, Jha P, Kulkarni SS, Lagarrigue S, Broskey NT, Boutant M, Wang X, Conde Alonso S, Ofori E, Auwerx J, Cantó C and Amati F (2017). Enhanced Respiratory Chain Supercomplex Formation in Response to Exercise in Human Skeletal Muscle, Cell Metabolism 25, 1–11.

Hunter RW, Foretz M, Bultot L, Fullerton MD, Deak M, Ross FA, Hawley SA, Shpiro N, Viollet B, Barron D, Kemp BE, Steinberg GR, Hardie DG and Sakamoto K. (2014). Mechanism of action of Compound-13: an α1-selective small molecule activator of AMPK, Chemistry & biology 21, Issue 7, 17 July; 866-879.


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For enquiries, please contact:
Laura Camurri, Communications, NIHS
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