A discussion about health by Janice Norris

It is turning out that muscles do more than just move our bodies allowing us to walk, run, and perform our daily activities.  New research is revealing that muscles actually help determine your ability to prevent disease, recover from illness, and may help you live longer.

Dr. David Williams, in his newsletter, ALTERNATIVES, says, “I would venture to say that we’ll start to hear that muscle loss is not only a primary cause of disease and frailty, but also one of the biggest killers of our time.

My first inkling that muscles were more was when I was in my early forties and had experienced severe back pain for 7 or 8 years.  I went to every kind of doctor, followed the advice of a few, exercised morning and night with no results, and finally went to University of Iowa Orthopedic Clinic.  A young therapist there told me about my back, “These are not bone problems; they are muscle problems.”  He gave me two stretching exercises which he instructed me to do 5 or 6 times daily to create a new memory in my back muscles.  Within three weeks I was totally free of back pain.  He told me if I did these the rest of my life, he guaranteed I would never have back problems again.  That has proven to be true, almost forty years later.  I still do these exercises and have added more stretching to them, including yoga the last 13 years.

            It seems muscles hold everything in our bodies together, from our internal organs to our bones.  They don’t just help us move.  Dr. Williams says they are also a huge metabolic organ and help to regulate blood sugar.  Because muscles are the only place where our bodies store amino acids, the building blocks of protein, they play a crucial role in proper immune system function.  When you lose muscle mass, your body loses its amino acid storage and that unavailability of amino acids weakens your immune system, making you more susceptible to infections and every communicable disease.  This is why old people are more susceptible to flu, shingles, etc.  Amino acids are essential for the growth and integrity of intestinal lining, and energy for immune cells.  Maintaining adequate muscle tissue helps your immune system to save your life.  Unfortunately, we don’t hear much about this when we are facing what seems to be a stream of epidemics in this country. 

With all this new information about the importance of muscle in keeping us healthy and independent as we grow old, Dr. Williams says we will be hearing a lot about mitochondria which he describes as the little organelles, or “energy generators” that reside in each cell.  Mitochondria sort of operate on their own, independently from the rest of the cell.  Many in the scientific community think the malfunction and death of mitochondria, causing cell shrinkage, is the underlying cause of aging.  This condition is called sarcopenia.

He says the pharmaceutical industry is working on drugs that counteract the damage from the mutations and help preserve the mitochondrial function.  He didn’t mention that statin drugs, used to lower cholesterol, destroy mitochondria; that is why the most common side effect is muscle weakness.   Drugs developed to make us think they will control what we could prevent or cure with diet or exercise, have brought about underwhelming results with side effects that often outweigh the benefits. He concludes, “Long-term manipulation, or what the pharmaceutical industry now calls ‘managing a disease,’ isn’t always so advantageous (at least not for the patient).”

            One of the leading researchers in this field says exercise doesn’t have to be grueling and miserable.  If you have not been exercising at all, he recommends that you start by walking five minutes a day and gradually increase your activity level as you become more fit.  It is best to combine endurance training with resistance exercise, but any exercise helps.  They have not determined how much exercise is required to obtain anti-aging benefits but the studies have shown that both moderate and strenuous exercise can provide benefit. 

Williams says, “The drug companies will undoubtedly market these new sarcopenia drugs as miraculous breakthroughs that are essential if you have any desire to slow the aging process.  They won’t tell you that impairments in skeletal muscle and mitochondrial function are directly caused by inactivity and not the aging process, per se.”  We hear it said, “When diet and exercise don’t work, take this pill.”  The marketers know we are lazy and will jump to take the pill.  Folks, one thing is certain, muscle aging is not caused by a drug deficiency!

Taking a pill of any kind, be it a supplement or a drug, will not replace a healthy diet and exercise.  So turn off the TV, get off the couch, and move!  You may not live longer but you will feel better while you are living.

(Janice Norris lives in Heber Springs, has a B.S. in home economics from Murray State University, owned and operated health food stores in Illinois and Heber Springs, and wrote a weekly column in Illinois for 15 years. She can be reached at janicenorris34@yahoo.com)