The title of this week’s blog, 11 Big Excuses to Always Keep Exercising, may help to look at exercising a bit differently than we normally do.
This blog is the second in a series of four that explains how the three tools; healthy eating, safe and effective exercising and keeping a state of relaxed awareness can help us to get the most out of our lives. Follow this link to visit last week’s blog about healthy nutrition (opens in a new window). This blog is dedicated to the second tool; safe and effective exercising.
Many people don’t like to hear it, but sufficient and effective physical activity is important when it comes to maintaining good physical, mental and emotional health.
The Physical Activity Guidelines say:
- It is recommended that adults accumulate at least 2 1/2 hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity, each week.
- It is also beneficial to add muscle and bone strengthening activities using major muscle groups, at least 2 times per week.
- More physical activities provide greater health benefits.
Reality shows that the percentage of adults meeting the guidelines is 32% for adults between 18 and 39, 18% for adults between 40 and 59 and 12% for adults between 60 and 79.
An important reason people have a hard time following the Physical Activity Guidelines is that they don’t realize what happens in their body when they exercise and how it benefits their overall well-being, especially when we age.
Having no or just a general idea of the effects that happen in our body when they age and what proper exercise can do, makes it very hard to feel motivated to commit oneself to working out regularly and consistently and knowing how to put a program together that addresses the needs of the body.
Let’s begin with the first aspect I mentioned. Understanding the processes in our body when we age is the first necessary step to be able to deal with the effects of getting older successfully. Keeping it clear and simple, I often begin with explaining that the aging process begins around the age of 35 with a decline of the Human Growth Hormone, the hormone that made us grow stronger and bigger during the first phase of our life. The decline of the Human Growth Hormone is the start signal for a chain of effects that begins with a decline in muscle mass.
If we don’t take action to maintain our muscle mass, we’ll lose on average 6.6 pounds per decade. Because it requires 50 calories per day to maintain one pound of muscle tissue, the body, once arrived at the age of 45, burns off about 330 calories less every day.
The first consequence, if we don’t adjust our eating patterns, is weight gain. The second consequence is a loss of strength which makes performing daily activities more challenging, and the third consequence will be the appearance of pains and aches such as lower back, joint and neck pain since there is less muscle to support the spine, joints and bones in general and more fat tissue to carry around.
Unfortunately, that is not yet the end of the story. Because all body organ systems are connected, and the main function of those other systems is to serve the muscular system, they too begin to show a decline in their function and strength.
This image shows seven of the eleven body organ systems that together form our body:
From left to right: skin, respiratory system, bones, muscle, digestive system, cardiopulmonary and nervous system. Not shown in the image are the hormonal system, the lymphatic system,
the urinary system, the reproductive system.
To illustrate this with some examples;
- Heart and lungs are responsible for delivering blood with oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and removing waste. The less muscle mass, the less oxygen and nutrients are required, and the less waste needs to be removed, which means that these functions will slow down and weaken, making them vulnerable.
- Because a shrinking muscular system can do with a smaller supply of food and consequently produces less waste, the entire digestive system slows down, which often translates into bowel movement problems and increases the risk for colon cancer in the longer term.
- Two other effects of declining muscle mass are decreased bone density, raising the risk of fractures, and deterioration of the nervous system making one more susceptible to mental problems such as anxiety, depression and in the long term Alzheimer’s.
The big takeaway so far; muscle is the centre point of good health and therefore worth preserving.
Think of this, keeping your muscular system in good condition means optimizing the function or all other body systems.
Optimize one body system and optimize ten other at the same time. What a bargain!
A question people often ask is; “but how do you do that and what if you realize that you have already lost quite a bit of your original muscle mass over the years?”
The good news is that you can preserve your muscle mass and build new muscle mass at any stage of your life and through that soften and even undo the symptoms such as energy loss, weight gain, pains, aches and other discomforts and that we can avoid wasting time on the doctor and hospital visits.
To illustrate that the process of muscle decline and related health decline is reversible I often refer to a study that reports about 19 patients, men and women all in their 90s, all living in a nursing home. Each of the participants performed five exercises, working all the major muscle groups of the body, twice a week for 14 weeks.
The result at the end of the 14-week period was that the participants gained on average 4 pounds of muscle, lost 3 pounds of fat, increased their upper-body strength by 40%, increased their leg-strength by 80% and reported significantly less discomfort in their neck, upper-back and lower-back areas. They reduced or discontinued the use of crutches, walkers and wheelchairs, and one woman made so much physical improvement that she left the nursing facility to rejoin her husband in an independent living apartment.
Improving one’s quality of life can be that simple.
The only way to improve our physical fitness is through muscle activity and healthy nutrition, which explains the important role of regular physical activity combined with supportive eating habits. A sedentary lifestyle, often accompanied by unhealthy eating habits, directly affects one’s fitness level and subsequently one’s health.
My last week’s blog explained the importance of healthy nutrition and what we can do to optimize our food intake. This is the link to that blog (opens in a new window).
A big misconception when it comes to exercising and physical activity, in general, is that we have and use one type of muscle for the various activities of daily life. The truth of the matter is that muscle tissue consists of several types of muscle groups, each with their own specific functions and abilities. To keep it simple, let’s focus on the two main groups of muscle fiber types:
Type 1 muscle fibers, also known as slow twitch or endurance muscle fibers, and type 2 muscle fibers, also known as fast twitch or strength muscle fibers.
Both muscle fiber types are connected to specific physical activities. Comparing both muscle fiber types in the diagram below shows how much they differ from each other.
|Strength/Type 2/Fast Twitch
|Endurance/Type 1/Slow Twitch
|Poor in endurance, high in strength.||High endurance, poor in strength|
|Develop short, forceful contractions||Develop long, continuous
|Speed and power||Endurance|
|Only recruited by the central nervous
system during high-intensity work
|Recruited by the central nervous
system during low-intensity work
|Recover slow||Recover fast|
|Work without the use of oxygen
|Work with the use of oxygen
|White color due to the absence of
oxygen-carrying red blood cells
|Red color due to the presence of
an abundance of oxygen-carrying
red blood cells
We need the fast twitch muscle fibers for strength and for times we need to fight or flight. This means translated to modern daily circumstances that we need fast twitch muscle fibers for activities such as carrying our shopping bags, maintaining good posture and walking stairs, and the fight and flight ability of these muscle fibers to catch a bus or to keep ourselves on our feet when we trip.
The slow twitch muscle fibers are important for ongoing low to moderate intensity activities ranging from sleeping and sitting to walking the dog and vacuuming.
Males and females have identical muscular systems. Both are equipped with about 50 percent slow twitch and 50 percent fast twitch muscle fibers. The fiber type distribution is also the same. It’s one’s gender, age, genetic blueprint and type and level of physical activity that largely accounts for the size and strength of the fibers.
Preserving energy is an important reason for the existence of these two muscle fiber types. Slow twitch muscle fibers consume less energy than fast twitch muscle fibers. The central nervous system, the system that controls voluntary muscle contractions therefore always activates slow twitch muscle fibers first.
The Central Nervous System (CNS) only activates the energy-expensive fast twitch muscle fibers when we need to overcome a resistance that exceeds 25 percent of our maximum strength.
This effect is called the size principle, meaning that muscle fibers are recruited from smallest to largest, always beginning with the slow twitch muscle fibers.
This is what it looks like in a diagram. The rectangle represents the total of muscle fibers in a body and is divided in two equal parts; 50% fast twitch muscle fibers and 50% slow twitch muscle fibers. The 25% and 75% on the left indicate that if we don’t need more than about 25% of our maximum strength, our Central Nervous System will only activate the slow twitch muscle fibers and leave the metabolic expensive fast twitch muscle fibers at rest.
Strength Muscle Fibers
|75%||About 50% FAST TWITCH muscle fibers
Strength / type 2 / Anaerobic, glycolytic / White
High in strength
Activated when using 25% – 100% of maximum strength
Big in size, slow recovery
|25%||About 50% SLOW TWITCH muscle fibers
Endurance / type 1 / Aerobic, oxidative / Red
High in endurance
Activated when using less than 25% of maximum strength
Small in size, quick recovery
The fact that the CNS only activates the fast twitch muscle fibers when we need more than 25 percent of our maximum strength means that these fast twitch muscle fibers remain dormant when the level of physical activity stays below the 25 percent threshold. They even won’t take over the task of the endurance muscle fibres when the latter get tired.
Another principle enters the picture at this moment: if you don’t use it you’ll lose it. Muscle tissue is a metabolic active tissue which means that the body has to spend energy to maintain muscle tissue. Spending energy on maintaining muscle fibers you don’t use equals wasting energy and is not in line with how the body is wired.
The body responds by breaking down what is causing the waste of energy. In other words, it begins to break down precious muscle tissue.
This natural process already automatically occurs when we age. When we reach the age of 35, we hit the phase in life called somatopause. From this point in life on our body begins to break down muscle tissue, a result of declining human growth hormone (HGH) levels, as I explained earlier.
This effect was never a real problem for our ancestors since they never got older than 40 or 50. Life expectancy nowadays is much longer, which is a true privilege but a privilege that comes with the responsibility to keep our body in good condition. Maintaining our HGH levels becomes increasingly important when we age to prevent our body from deteriorating disproportionally fast. The direct result if we don’t will be a rapid decline of the quality of our life and becoming a burden on the life of others to help us live a decent life.
To prevent this from happening and to improve and maintain our HGH levels and muscular system as a whole, we need to signal our body that we need both the type 1, endurance, slow twitch muscle fibers as well as the type 2, strength, fast twitch muscle fibers. The method to give the body this signal is through stimulating both muscle fiber types on a regular basis through specific forms of physical activity.
The specific forms of physical activity to stimulate the two muscle fiber types are for the:
- Type 1/endurance/slow twitch muscle fibers: endurance training, also known as cardiovascular training, cardio, aerobic training or aerobics
- Type 2/strength/fast twitch muscle fibers: (high intensity) strength training, also known as resistance training, weight training and anaerobic training
What to do if you value a body that is both strong and energetic, allowing you to maintain an active and independent living? Be sure to follow the Physical Activity Guidelines I mentioned at the beginning of the blog and save yourself for all sorts of mind games that prevent you from acquiring and maintaining the physical health you deserve.
Talking about mind games, next week I’ll go into the emotional and mental aspect aspects of well-being. One can eat the healthiest food available and follow all guidelines for physical activity if all that goodness isn’t supported by a relaxed mindset that allows focus and flow in one’s life, nothing much can be expected from one’s intentions and efforts to create a happy life.
In the meantime, if you want to bring your physical, mental and emotional well-being to a higher level, for yourself, someone else or a group of people you are part of or represent, go to my website patrickstreppel.com (opens in a new window) and scroll down to fill out the form. Time is precious.
Let’s begin a conversation.
I look forward to receiving your message.
Take care for now.