Researchers have found that long-term heat therapy could boost the mitochondrial function in muscles.
In the study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, scientists of the Brigham Young University in Utah in the United States applied two hours of shortwave diathermy – a type of heat therapy generated by electrical pulses – to the thigh muscles of volunteers as part of an experiment.
The researchers based the six-day trial of heat on the minimum amount of exercise needed to measure changes in muscle, or about two hours each day. They designed the treatment to mimic the effects of muscle heating that occurs during exercise. The therapy sessions increased the temperature of the heated leg by approximately 7 degrees F. Each participant’s other leg served as a control, receiving no heat therapy or temperature change. The researchers looked at mitochondria content in the muscles on the first day of therapy and 24 hours after the last treatment.
Mitochondrial function increased by an average of 28 percent in the heated legs after the heat treatment. The concentration of several mitochondrial proteins also increased in the heated legs, which suggests that in addition to improving function, repeated exposure to heat increased mitochondrial content in human skeletal muscle.
Mitochondria, the “energy centers” of the cells, are essential for maintaining good health. A decrease in the number or function of mitochondria may contribute to chronic and potentially serious conditions such as heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and type 2 diabetes. Exercise has been shown to create new mitochondria and improve function of existing mitochondria.