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How Lack of Exercise Shortens Lives

Two important articles show that people die from inactivity, not just from aging. We know that as people age, they lose muscle, their immunities weaken and because of their weakened immunity, they are more likely to die of cancer and infectious diseases. A study in Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research shows that older men and younger men turn over body protein at the same rate. How can this be when aging causes virtually all men and women to lose muscle, and why is this observation one of the most important pieces of news about disease?

As you age, you lose your ability to kill germs because of lack of muscle. When germs get into your body, you must make white blood cells and proteins called antibodies to kill them. Antibodies and cells are made from protein and the only place that you can store extra protein is in your muscles. When you have large muscles, you have a ready source of protein to make antibodies and cells. When you have small muscles, you have a very limited source of amino acids to make protein, so your immunity may be inadequate to kill germs.

You need antibodies to control cancer cells also. Each day, every healthy body makes millions of cancer cells. Your white blood cells and protein antibodies are necessary to ferret out and kill these cancer cells. You develop cancer when these cancer cells survive and start growing. Having large muscles gives you the source of protein to make antibodies that kill cancer cells as well as germs. Furthermore, when your skeletal muscles are small, so is your heart muscle. A strong heart can withstand arteriosclerosis and infections that can kill a weak heart.

The study in the Journal of the American Medical Association shows that aging does not cause muscles to get smaller. Lack of exercise causes muscles to get smaller. With exercise, muscles are injured and they take a certain amount of time to heal from each exercise bout. With aging, it takes increasingly longer to recover from exercise. So people get injured or get tired too soon or feel sore too early, so they do less and less or they stop exercising altogether. Instead they should be training more intelligently to retain muscle.

First check with your doctor to see if you have any condition that can be aggravated by exercise. Intense exercise can harm people with heart problems. Then try to exercise at a very relaxed pace every day until your muscles feel heavy or hurt and then stop. When you can exercise every day for at least 20 minutes, you are ready to start training. Warm up by exercising at a very relaxed pace for at least 10 minutes. Then pick up the pace until your muscles start to feel heavy or you become short of breath and then slow down. Alternate these intense /recovery bouts until your muscles start to stiffen and then stop. Take the next day off. Then exercise every day at a very slow and casual pace until your muscles are not sore. After a few days, your muscles will feel fresh again, and you can try to repeat the intense workout.

Most older people should not try to do intense workouts more often than once a week. The major advantage of competing in sports is that it teaches an intelligent person how to avoid injury. Then that person can exercise into his nineties without quitting or getting injured, so that he can retain muscle mass, keep up his immunity and live longer and healthier.

1) JAMA, January 12, 2001

2) Effects of exercise on senescent muscle. Clinical Orthopaedics and Related Research, 2002, Iss 403, Suppl. S, pp S211-S220. WJ Evans. Evans WJ, Univ Arkansas Med Sci, Nutr Metab & Exercise Lab, Donald W Reynolds Ctr Aging, Cent Arkansas Vet Healthcare Syst, Slot 806, Little Rock,AR 72205 USA.

Checked 12/18/09

May 11th, 2013
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About the Author: Gabe Mirkin, MD

Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D., brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology. The Dr. Mirkin Show, his call-in show on fitness and health, was syndicated in more than 120 cities. Read More
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