Monday, March 25, 2013

You might as well stay on the couch because keeping fit 'can't stop our muscles ageing'

Millions of us spend hours sweating and straining in the gym hoping to keep ourselves looking younger than our years.  But when it comes to slowing down the ageing process, you might as well stay on the couch.

According to scientists, regular exercise will not stop our muscles losing their tone and shape. The findings challenge the long-held belief that inactivity is largely responsible for muscle wastage in our older years.

Professor Jamie Timmons, from Loughborough University, said the research shows 'a simple link between muscle ageing and lack of exercise is not plausible'.

He added: 'When it comes to tackling ageing, experts are advising the Government that muscle ageing is caused by factors such as inactivity. However, we looked at the changes in human muscle with age, in both people from the UK and the USA.

'We did not observe physical activity altering the age-related biological changes. So for some people exercise might produce some good functional effects, but for others it will not stop the loss of muscle.'

Professor Timmons said a quarter of people 'just cannot grow muscle tissue' even when they make an effort to be physically active.

And he stressed that a 'one-size-fits-all' approach will not be effective when it comes to stopping muscles from withering away.

The researchers found specific chemical markers, or fingerprints, for muscle ageing. Once they identified the chemical signatures, the scientists were able to see how they reacted to endurance training.

They were looking for improvements in the patients who were exercising. But they soon realised that the volunteers' hard work in the gym did not stop their muscles from deteriorating.

Professor Timmons, who specialises in systems biology at Loughborough's Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences department, said: 'We found there is absolutely no connection. The major problem with ageing is loss of muscle, but 25 per cent of people don't respond to exercise and grow muscle.'

He warned that repetitive exercise could cause more than one in ten people to suffer high blood pressure and place 9 per cent at higher risk of diabetes. He said: 'Our public health strategy is to focus on physical activity, which in many cases doesn't work.

'For some people, the focus may be better spent on looking at their diet or sleep.'

The findings will come as bad news to exercise-obsessed stars who have attempted to maintain their youthful looks.

Despite her rigorous fitness regime, it is often pointed out that Madonna's hands and the veins on her arms make her look every one of her 54 years.

Last year Meg Ryan, 51, turned heads for all the wrong reasons after being spotted with blood vessels protruding from her arms.

And Sex And The City star Sarah Jessica Parker, now 47, has been forced to reduce her daily workout after her designer gowns revealed her bulging veins and sinewy biceps.

Prominent veins are usually a sign of over-exercising, and they become more evident as the body ages.


Response to Drescher on cancer and chemicals

Last week, Fran Drescher responded to my Huffington Post article on cancer trends, and today I posted a reply on the Independent Women’s Forum Inkwell blog. In a nutshell, I praise Drescher for her work promoting early detection and a healthy lifestyle that includes both a good diet and exercise, but her focus on chemicals as a significant cancer cause is problematic.

Her basic argument on the Huffington Post was as follows: Most cancers are caused by “environmental factors” and since trace chemicals are present in the human body we should take action to eliminate or reduce them if for no other reason than to simply err on the safe side.

It’s true that “environmental factors” are the cause of most cancers, but researchers define these factors as anything but genetics. As I noted in my article and elsewhere, environmental factors include tobacco, dietary choices, infections, natural radiation, and reproductive behavior among other things. Trace chemicals in consumer products are not a demonstrated cancer source.

What about the fact that chemicals are found in the human body? In its Fourth National Report on Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) explains: “The presence of an environmental chemical in people’s blood or urine does not mean that it will cause effects or disease.” The real question is: Is exposure from consumer products ever really high enough to raise concerns about cancer?

“These everyday exposures are usually too small to cause health problems,” says the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in its booklet titled “Chemicals, Cancer and You.” In fact, as humans increased our use of manmade chemicals, cancer rates have declined—the reverse of what you’d expect if they posed significant risks.

Finally, the idea that we should eliminate certain products “to be on the safe side” ignores the fact that these chemicals have benefits. When we arbitrarily eliminate them — either by regulation or simply bad publicity — we lose those benefits and potentially create more risks. For example, bans on the pesticide DDT — rather than policies to manage risks — have contributed to millions of deaths every year. Similar policies to ban chemicals used to make plastics and resins — including medical devices, blood bags, water bottles, and sanitary food packaging – may create additional risks for society, including some that are deadly.

So to erring on the “safe” side, I’d rather we focused on science, risk assessment, and ultimately consumer choice.


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