Use It or Lose It
I remember back in school we used to see various lists of major risk factors for poor health outcomes all the time. Almost every single list included the same phrase: a sedentary lifestyle. Inactivity was a risk for loss of balance and falls, brittle bones, cardiovascular issues, diabetes, and increased pain. The reason behind it, they explained, was always simple. Use it or lose it.
It makes a lot of sense. Our body is constantly trying to be as efficient as possible with available energy and nutrients, and if we are not using a system that maintenance and upkeep is diverted elsewhere. If we don’t need it, why waste valuable resources on it!
What always amazed me, however, was how fast we see this happen. We discuss it with athletes all the time when warning about the off season, that even someone in peak physical condition will often have to work for MONTHS if they take even two full weeks off of some sort of training program. Now, newer research is showing as little as one week has dramatic effects on these athletes.
So what about the rest of us “normal” people?
Is this why even a few days on bed rest in a hospital makes us feel like getting out of bed can be an effort at times? Unfortunately, yes. This is sadly not a case of the bigger you are the further you fall. The human body deconditions RAPIDLY in states of disuse. We’ve found that typical activities, even those we consider heavier activities (manual work and daily lifting) are rarely enough to stimulate the body. Purposeful and challenging exercise seems to be necessary to keep our body in good condition. That short span without daily exercise that it takes for an athlete to decondition applies to us just as much. Perhaps it applies even more. When we start losing endurance, strength, and fine motor skills like balance, it has almost a more dramatic effect on our daily lives!
And to keep this up, our exercises need to be challenging too! We often tell patients and clients that if they can do 5 more repetitions with a certain weight, it’s already too easy. The exercise will begin to lose effectiveness in providing challenge and stimulation to grow. Yet I see some trainers using the same weights for their fitness clients for months to years! If you have been using the same two pound weights for the same activities for that long, you are actually at risk too!
Don’t get me wrong, not all hope is lost if you have not been challenged enough! Our body can continue to adapt throughout our lives. There also appears to be no age where exercise does not show some benefit! But it is very important that if you are not hitting the base guidelines per week of at least 60 minutes of resistance training/weight lifting and 120 minutes of cardiovascularly challenging activity (something that really gets your heart rate up high!), you get on that fast before you begin to notice the effects profoundly!