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Lack of Exercise, Not Aging, Causes Weakness and Loss of Muscle in Older People

Aging does not cause you to lose muscles. Loss of muscle is caused by lack of exercise. You can preserve both muscle size and strength by continuing to exercise as long as you live. Here are MRIs of the legs of 40- and 70-year-old triathletes, and a 70-year-old non-exerciser:


The dark areas are muscle, the light areas are fat. Which legs would you rather have?

Forty competitive athletes, aged 40-81, who trained four to five times a week, had the same size muscles, the same absence of fat around their muscles, and close to the same strength as much younger athletes (The Physician and Sportsmedicine, September 2011). Many of the diseases and debilitating conditions associated with aging are caused by lack of exercise. "Exercise decreases body fat and obesity, increases muscle strength, improves balance, gait, and mobility, decreases likelihood of falling, improves psychological health, reduces arthritis pain, and heart attacks, osteoporosis, cancer, and diabetes."

After age 40, the average person loses more than eight percent of muscle size per decade. This loss increases to 15 percent per decade after age 75 years. Older people who lose muscles are four times more likely be disabled, have difficulty walking, and need walkers and other mechanical devices to help them walk (Am J Epidemiol, 1998; 147(8):755-763).


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Stents Not Indicated for People with Stable Coronary Artery Disease

Researchers reviewed eight studies comparing stents with the standard medical care for blocked arteries leading to the heart (Archives of Internal Medicine, March, 2012). They found that stents are no more effective than medicines (beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, statins or daily aspirin) in preventing chest pain, heart attacks, the need for future stents, or death. The study did not include the emergency use of stents to treat an acute heart attack. This is not the first study to show that stents are done more often than indicated (Engl J Med, April 12, 2007;356:1503-1516).

THE SURGICAL PROCEDURE: Surgeons place a mesh-covered metal tube into an artery narrowed by a plaque. The stent is threaded through an artery in the leg or arm, and is supposed to keep the artery open. Fifty percent of people with blocked arteries leading to the heart are given stents, rather than just drugs. More than one million stents are inserted in the U.S. each year at a cost of $30,000 to $60,000 apiece.

STENTS HAVE NOT BEEN SHOWN TO PREVENT HEART ATTACKS. Except in a very recently blocked artery or an acute heart attack, placing stents has not been shown to prevent heart attacks or death. Stents are not more effective in treating angina (chest pain with sudden exertion). Twenty-nine percent of patients given stents still had angina, compared to 33 percent of those given just medicine.

PLAQUES ARE A WHOLE BODY DISEASE. Arteriosclerosis that blocks arteries is a generalized disease caused by an overactive immune system. I do not believe that they should be treated with a surgical procedure on just one part of one artery.

TREATMENT OF BLOCKED ARTERIES: Treatments for blocked arteries leading to the heart include: weight reduction: exercise: eating large amounts of fruits and vegetables; avoiding smoking, meat, refined carbohydrates (sugared drinks, food made from flour), and fried foods; and getting blood levels of one-OH vitamin D above 75 nmol/L. Your doctor may recommend medication until your lifestyle changes have reversed the problem.


Just Slowing Down Increases Risk for Heart Attacks and Diabetes

Your body is a finely-tuned machine that requires constant movement. A study from the University of Missouri shows that as soon as you start to exercise less than you normally do, your body changes, causing blood sugar and insulin levels to rise; and you develop changes that eventually can lead to diabetes and a heart attack (Med Sci Sports Exerc, February, 2012;44(2):225-31).

The American Heart Association recommends that you take at least 10,000 steps per day, equivalent to 30 minutes of walking or slow jogging. The average American takes fewer than 5,000 steps per day.

The subjects in this study regularly took about 13,000 steps per day and exercised for more than 30 minutes a day. Their blood sugars never spiked too high after they ate. They were then told to cut way back on their exercising and stop walking so much. They took fewer than 5000 steps per day. They took the elevator instead of stairs, walked an average of 4,300 steps per day, and exercised for less than three minutes a day. They ate the same amount and types of food.

After just three days of reduced activity and the same intake of food, their blood sugar levels one hour after meals increased by almost 100 percent and their insulin levels rose significantly.

The results of this study should encourage you never to stop exercising. When blood sugar levels rise too high, sugar sticks to the outside membranes of cells. Once there, it can never be removed. The sugar is converted eventually to sorbitol, which destroys the cells to cause every known side effect of diabetes: blindness, deafness, heart attacks, strokes, loss of feeling, impotence, kidney failure and so forth.

Resting muscles are dead. They need insulin to draw sugar from the bloodstream into their cells; even then, they do it very poorly. On the other hand, contracting muscles can draw sugar from the bloodstream without needing insulin. This blood- lowering effect is maximal when you are exercising and for up to an hour after you finish. Then it tapers until it completely disappears after 17 hours.

So 17 hours after you finish exercising, your blood sugar starts to rise higher than normal after you eat. Your arteries will not be damaged by high blood sugar levels after just one day of not exercising. However they will be damaged if you continue to avoid exercise.

When your blood sugar levels start to rise higher than normal, your pancreas releases more insulin in an effort to lower your high blood sugar levels. So your blood insulin levels rise. High insulin levels constrict arteries leading to your heart to cause heart attacks. The authors showed that insulin levels rise after just one day of reduced exercising.

Recent data show that the more intensely you exercise, the greater the ability of muscles to prevent blood sugar levels from rising too high. You help to prevent diabetes and heart attacks by contracting your muscles. Keep on moving.


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Portuguese Potato-Garlic Soup

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March 4th, 2012
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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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