Muscles, Exercise - and Olive Oil!

Good things come in three’s, so they say, so here are three good things - well, three things, anyway.

There’s a proverb that says “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link” - your body could be the perfect illustration of that. If you’re going to suffer injury through doing your sport it could well be at the weakest part of you. So, as much as possible you have to keep every part of your body as strong as every other part.

 

And if you want to do that, you will need to make sure that your exercise routine really does exercise all of your muscles because, according to research from a team of scientists at the University of Western Ontario led by Professor Geoff Power, a muscle that isn’t exercised won’t remain strong and well conditioned merely as a result of you exercising other muscles.

 

Or, to put it into scientific jargon, there is no “overall systemic neuroprotective effect of high levels of physical activity”.

 

Other research by this same team has established that exercise does enable muscle to maintain its mass and condition. Measurements of the leg muscles of a group of Masters runners, aged around 65, and the leg muscles of a much younger group of runners, showed the muscle mass and condition of both groups of runners to be comparable. By contrast, the leg muscles of a third group, of older non-runners, were much smaller and weaker. The measurements taken were expressed in terms of the number of Motor Units in the muscle - Motor Units consist of the union of a motor neuron conected to a group of muscle fibres - which we wrote about previously - (the original research is here)

 

In this research, the same team of scientists measured and compared runners’ arm muscles, i.e. muscles that were not directly involved in the exercise being undertaken. As before, a group of lifelong Masters runners and a group of older non-runners - aged in the 65-70 range - were compared to a group of younger runners - average age 27. They found that whereas in the previous study the leg muscle measurements of the Masters runners compared well with the younger runners, in this test, the Masters runners arm muscle measurements were more similar to that of the older non-runners. In other words, despite being long-term top level athletes, the reduction in strength, and therefore functionality, of their arm muscles followed the more usual pattern seen in ageing, i.e. muscle wasting, as was the case in the group of older non-runners.

 

The scientists concluded from these results that in order to keep any particular muscle in good shape as you age you need to exercise it directly.

 

So if you want to avoid being an illustration of a proverb, and want to continue being a fully-functioning Silver Grey athlete, make sure your exercises and your training work-outs involve your entire body.

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Next, it is well known that among the benefits of regular exercise is a reduction in the risk of suffering from one or more of the most common chronic, serious or fatal diseases - stroke, heart disease, diabetes and breast and colon cancer. Until recently, World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended 150 minutes per week of exercise at a level equivalent to a brisk walk, or 75 minutes per week of a more intense level of exercise such as running, in order to achieve these health benefits. In scientific terms, this amount of exercise is quantified as 600 metabolic equivalent minutes (600 MET minutes).

 

Now, WHO has accepted new findings from researchers in the US and Australia that its recommended amount of weekly exercise is too low for marked health benefits to be achieved. Researchers involved in a meta analysis of 174 studies have concluded that a significant drop in the occurrence of these 5 diseases requires a much higher weekly levels of exercise - up to 3000/4000 MET minutes per week!

 

This might seem a huge amount of time to spend each week on exercise, but not all of it has to be spent on “exercise” as such, much of the health benefits could be gained by gardening, other household chores or by taking part of your journey to work on foot.

 

On the other hand, you could look at it like this.

 

If the amount of time spent fulfilling the demands of the first part of this article seems onerous, at least the time spent ensuring that ALL the muscles in your body are exercised will, according to WHO’s new recommendation, give you a long and healthy life in which to enjoy your fully functional body!

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And lastly, before we forget - nutrition!

 

Everyone is aware of the importance of good diet, good nutrition. In recent times, there has been enthusiastic support for what has been called The Mediterranean Diet, which consists largely of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, seeds, fish, and olive oil, in particular for heart health. New research has shown that it is not only good for that, it also contributes to improved cognitive function, including memory. This research comes from Roy Hardman from the Centre for Human Psychopharmacology, Swinburne University of Technology Melbourne Australia and his colleagues who, through analysis of all available research papers published between 2000-15 found that many of them supported the idea that “the Mediterranean diet … showed that people had slowed rates of cognitive decline, reduced conversion to Alzheimer's, and improved cognitive function”.

 

We have previously reported on research demonstrating that exercise itself benefits the brain and cognitive function, but on the basis of the more the better, adding in a healthy dose of this memory-enhancing diet will hopefully not only give you a better chance of avoiding the cognitive decline associated with age, it will also give you the the wherewithal to remember to do all the exercises in the first two parts of this article!