Use it or lose it. When it comes to muscle strength and flexibility, this cliché effectively sums up the effects of a sedentary lifestyle. If you don’t exercise and use those muscles, you will hasten the decline of your body’s muscle strength, flexibility and endurance. Studies have found that regular exercise has a positive effect on muscles, including the most important muscle in the body, the heart.
Exercise and physical activity are crucial to maintaining and enhancing muscle strength. Muscle strength decreases naturally with age, but exercising regularly is one way to slow the decline of your body’s muscle strength. According to Mark A. W. Andrews, director of the independent study program at the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, exercise enhances muscle strength through two processes: hypertrophy, which is the enlargement of cells, and neural adaptation. In hypertrophy, regular exercise followed by periods of rests and the intake of dietary protein causes muscle cells to increase in size. In neural adaptation, regular exercise decreases the inhibitory feedback between muscle cells and the central nervous system, so muscles don’t overwork or rip apart during stressful situations. According to Andrews, neural adaptation is responsible for most of the muscle strength gains in women who exercise.
Flexibility and Endurance
Like muscle strength, muscle flexibility and endurance decrease with age. That’s why falls are one of the leading causes of death in people over 65. Regular exercise can help reduce this risk by enhancing muscle flexibility and endurance. Muscles and ligaments connect bones throughout the body. Bones are also connected to each other by joints that help produce movement when muscles contract and pull on bones. The body’s flexibility depends on the conditioning of these muscles, bones, and joints, so a frequent regimen of range-of-motion exercises, like yoga and tai chi, can reduce the risks of falls and other ailments associated with inflexibility. A recent study found that tai chi reduced this risk by 50 percent.
Exercise and the Heart Muscle
The heart is one of the most important muscles in the body, and exercise is one of the best ways to keep your heart healthy. Regularly exercising strengthens the heart muscle, so the heart does not have to work as hard to pump blood through the body even during times of stress. Studies have also shown that regular exercise can prevent heart disease and even benefit people who already have heart disease. Exercise has also been shown to be beneficial to people who suffer from high blood pressure.
Daily Exercise Recommendations
Regular exercise promotes repetition, which is the key to increasing flexibility, building endurance, and strengthening muscles. Studies have shown that people who exercise regularly are healthier, leaner, and stronger than other people their age who don’t exercise. In fact, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity or exercise for adults at least five days a week. The recommendation for children is 60 minutes of exercise or physical activity at least five days a week. If you don’t have time to exercise, try to find ways to increase your heart rate during your daily activities. For example, you can take the stairs instead of the elevator. The council suggests starting slow and building your endurance when beginning a new exercise program.
Anthony L. White is a journalist, novelist and screenwriter. He graduated from the University of Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism. White, writing as Anthony Lamarr, is author of the Strebor Books novel, "Our First Love." He is also a columnist for Perry Newspapers, Inc.