I’ve been looking at the bodies of the Olympic athletes, impressed with their beauty and grace. In our society there’s an emphasis on big, bulky muscles. But the Olympic athletes, excepting a few sports like weight lifting, are elegantly lean. They’re strong, but their muscles are for function rather than show. I see them as a model for the rest of us. You don't have to be an Olympic athlete to be physically fit.
Muscle, Bone, and Fat
Take a long look at the legs in the picture below, shown in cross-section. The white on the perimeter is fat, at the center it’s bone marrow. The medium gray stuff is muscle. The dark annular area is bone. Do you see how little bone mass the sedentary person has? That person has way more fat than muscle and is headed for osteoporosis.
Both 74-year olds—one sedentary, the other a triathlete—have legs about the same size. But one is mostly fat and the other mainly muscle. There's a big physiological difference between what fat does to your body and what muscle does, including hormonal function. You need both, but a healthy person has much more muscle than fat.
Now look at the triathlete of the same age—big difference. The triathlete has lots of muscle and bone mass and just a little fat. We don't all need to be that lean; we're not all the same. What’s remarkable is how similar the 72 year old triathlete is to the top one, who’s 40. There’s a giant lesson here about how to age well: Just use your muscles! We talked about the interaction of bones and muscles in this post.
Dying from Resting
Coordinated to the Olympics, Lancet, the prestigious British medical journal, has an article about physical activity and disease. Bottom line, physical inactivity has about the same impact on your health as smoking. If you’re not physically active (a minimum of three hours per week) you have a 9% greater risk of dying from diabetes, heart disease, and certain cancers. Worldwide, this is about 5 million premature deaths per year. Imagine—5 million premature deaths.
Labor Saving Devices
The Industrial Revolution brought us many laborsaving devices, but we’ve enjoyed too much of a good thing. In the way that we’re reexamining how the Industrial Revolution changed food—returning to eating food the way it was first created—we also need to reconsider those laborsaving devices. We've gone a little crazy here with things like car doors that close themselves. That really is a little crazy but it raises a good question:
When does it make sense to save labor, and when should we ignore modern devices and labor on in the olden way? Here are a few examples from our home:
- We grind wheat by hand; it’s hard, takes about 30 minutes to make flour for bread. An electric grinder would save a lot of swea but I like doing this the way my Dad did.
- I’m touching up the paint on the house this week and that requires a lot of sanding. I use an electric sander; it’s about three times faster than sanding by hand and it does a more consistent job.
- In our little community, people have golf carts for getting their stuff down to the beach, or for just riding around. The grandchildren would love a cart, the beautiful wife noted, and some friends have one to sell at a good price. But we persist in walking, carrying our stuff, though sometimes people offer us a ride.
- I'm thinking about adding a pull-up bar over our garage. The BW isn't sure this will look good, but it's a great exercise. Maybe I could paint it to be less conspicuous.
You see what’s happening—we’re revisiting all those laborsaving devices and questioning their usefulness. For me, I need a functional advantage to use a machine rather than my muscles. Otherwise I'll keep things simple and go manual. But one thing is for sure: To live a long, healthy life we relearn where and when to use our muscles. This is a change of direction for our society but leads us to this week’s post:
Please comment: What do you do to maintain—and build—muscles. Have you discarded any laborsaving devices? Do you feel differently now when you do physical work?