Muscle atrophy: If you don’t use it, you lose it

Muscle atrophy: If you don’t use it, you lose it
Megan Johnson McCullough on May 24 at EveryBODY’s Fit Studio in Oceanside. Courtesy photo

When it comes to muscle, the terms “loss of size” or “wasting away” certainly are not the qualities one is looking for. Muscle atrophy is just that … the loss of muscle mass tissue in the body. We associate muscles with being strong, moving large objects and Arnold Schwarzenegger, not with deterioration.

There are two types of muscle atrophy. The first results from disuse. Lack of exercise and chronic sedentary lifestyle habits are the culprits. The other form is neurogenic atrophy, which results from injury or disease. As a trainer, I must point out that one of these two can be prevented. An able body is surely capable of avoiding that pesky truth: “If you don’t use it, you lose it.”

The joys of aging present challenges to the body. You naturally move less. Especially when retirement and the world of less responsibilities comes along with the privilege of reaching a certain age. The hours of the day are consumed much differently. The daily grind becomes every day being Saturday. Elderly clients tell me they play Sudoku to keep their brain and mind fresh.

Well, the same principle applies for exercise. Keep the body parts fresh and train them with activity. Otherwise, you may become another hip replacement statistic due to falls and injury. And what does this lead to? Surgery, being bedridden and pain, which are all causes for muscle to atrophy over time.

Nerves communicate to muscles to perform their tasks. Impaired communication can lead to illnesses such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) also called Lou Gehrig’s disease, polio and Guillain-Barre syndrome. Muscle functions are lacking, which eventually leads to atrophy. Simple tasks such as gripping a coffee mug become difficult.

Arthritis is a more common threat to atrophy. Movement with inflamed, stiff joints is not easy, and most times one avoids activity that creates this discomfort. We should not take for granted the functions our bodies perform. Your body is the best investment you can make, and it certainly is not a “waist” of time or money when it comes to health.

Prevention and decreasing severity are, of course, on a case by case basis, but prevention and reversal can be helped with exercise and proper nutrition. A solid resistance-strength training program combined with a quality diet that includes lean proteins will help hypertrophy (muscle growth) take place. Restricting calories is not giving the body the fuel it needs to perform optimally. Pick the right types of calories instead. Working with a doctor or physical therapist is advisable if atrophy is the result of illness or injury.

The Lifestyle of the FIT and Healthy person knows that exercise and proper eating are priorities on the agenda and are not considered poor use of time, energy, effort or expenses. Less is not more when it comes to muscle. There are over 650 muscles in these incredible bodies that we have. You have to use them so you don’t lose them.

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