The Daily Choice: Fitness or Atrophy

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This morning I was reading the blogs I follow, and I ran across one that really got my attention. The blogger was citing a study that he read on aging and muscle atrophy in athletes. I have a deep fear of losing my mobility as I age, so this study got my attention. The premise was that activity continues to build and maintain muscle at the SAME rate even as we age. The author had a friend that rode a bicycle up into her 90s, and he was curious if her legs were any different than the typical 90-year-old. When he saw this study, he had to share it.

You can read the blog post here.

What really grabbed my attention were the below photos.

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Screenshot 2014-05-11 19.49.46

 

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A picture really does paint a thousand words. I’ve read that as we age our muscles don’t atrophy because of age, they atrophy because of disuse. These pictures show that very clearly. I look with sadness at the muscle of the sedentary man. Those muscles look like little dead, disconnected fibers. No wonder he has no energy. Muscles basically help us move around. I suppose if he started to exercise he could build those muscles a little, but they look so withered and frail. I wonder if there is a point of no return. When I was in Chesterton IN, I taught a yoga class at the YMCA. When I did the initial pilot class, an old, frail man came in. He had to do his yoga in a chair. He told me that he was a lifelong football coach and a former football player. He could barely move. His hands and fingers were withered with arthritis, and he walked with a walker. I worked with him to do some movement with the class, but it was very difficult for him. It made me very sad that this former athlete had aged like this. About 6 months later, I was in a different gym, and I heard a man call my name from one of the exercise bikes. He was riding at a normal rate of speed and full of energy. He had a big smile on his face. I later saw him lifting weights on the floor. I had to do a double-take. I even had to ask him if he was the same guy. I was astounded. He said he had gotten a trainer and had started exercising. I became a believer in that instant that declining fitness is optional.

People tell me I have discipline. I suppose I do have some self-discipline, but I really just have a firm belief in consequences. I know that if I don’t get up and exercise at 4:45 in the morning, there is a 50/50 chance I won’t get it done. I’m not as good at working out in the evenings. I also know that lovely feeling of coming home in the evening and knowing that I can do whatever I want to do. It’s not nearly as great a feeling as having to go to the gym after work. It’s a choice I make, and I know the consequences. I work out very moderately. I do yoga once or twice a week (not including my early morning wake-up yoga), I lift weights once or twice a week for 45 min or so, and I run 3 days a week for 30 min to an hour or so. If you count up the hours, it’s not that much. But, I get so much back from it. It helps that I have to call my coach and tell her what I did that day. Sometimes it’s worth gutting it out to be able to say ‘done’ rather than coming up with some whiny excuse. I don’t like the consequences if I don’t do it. So, if that’s self-discipline, then I guess I have it. I know that discipline and self-care is like a muscle. The more I use it, the more developed it is. It’s another concept that only withers with disuse.

So, these photos are now emblazoned in my mind as a choice. I can head into aging with the option of having those strong, pliant and juicy muscles only minimally covered with adipose tissue (fat), or I can head into aging with an ever-increasing layer of adipose tissue (fat) and quickly diminishing muscle tissue. It’s really as simple as that. I’m lucky enough to have seen these pictures today, but I’m even luckier that I saw that aging athlete turn it around. I asked Jessica if my current weight regimen is really strengthening my legs. She assured me it was. She thought it was because I didn’t like the new workout, but it was really because I was sweating the outcome. I know I’ll be motivated to hop to it tomorrow. It may be morning, or it may be night… but I’ll guarantee you I’ll be texting ‘done’ before I sleep.

 

 

 

6 thoughts on “The Daily Choice: Fitness or Atrophy

  1. I’m trying to find an image of the same thing for bones but can’t come across it right now. Anyway, they’ve found the same effect, especially in women, of exercise (weight bearing) maintaining bone mass just as it maintains muscle mass. This is such a key thing as we all age and grow out of the stage where we can increase mass (of muscle or bone); maintenance is a big deal! Just one more pro for the exercise column 🙂

    • Cool. I know we had a work function where they tested bone density when I was in Memphis. I had a bone density better than a 21 year old! My family history has that bone disease in it… Name escapes me. I was stoked.

  2. So I’m sitting here at Gus’ drinking a beer and waiting for my fried chicken, reading your article on choices…dang you can make a guy feel guilty! But I am planning to set my alarm for tomorrow morning and work on a Hal Higdon beginner work out….the spirit is willing, we’ll see how the flesh does in the AM….thanks for the inspiration as always!

    Jerry Laurain | 901-574-0330

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