Be Muscular

The Olympics

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?

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Reader Comments (6)

We've been going through a fitness revolution at our house. I kept trying to like running because it's so hip with people I know and great fitness. But I hated it and dreaded it. I've found I like going to classes at the gym or weight training. I like that classes push me and are fun, the hour goes by relatively quickly. And I like weight lifting because I see results. My husband goes for walks or bike rides with our daughter in the morning before work and tries to weight lift at least once per week.

We also read this article ( about how much money we could save by having my husband cycle to work. He loves to bike so this is a great idea to combine fitness with his commute. Right now we live too far for him to do this, but we have plans to move to a neighborhood we love in 2 years when I'm done with school and he'll bike 6 miles to and from work. People always think they need cars, but that's not always the case. Biking is great, love it.

Also I should not that since I started exercising in November I went to my yearly physical this spring an my cholesterol had dropped from average risk of a heart attack to half average risk. I think it was 40 pts lower! I haven't shed as many pounds as i'd like (still working on the diet too) but that drop in cholesterol was awesome. Also I feel great. And look better.

Yay for exercise.

August 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterAnna

Hi Anna Finding exercise that works for you is key. I have noticed that exercise builds muscle and reduces fat mass at the same time. So you will lose less weight than you might want but you'll look a lot better because your weight is better proportioned. This will show more in your dress size than on the scale. The old habit of starving yourself of calories to lose weight will cause a loss of muscle mass so though you lose weight, you're really not any more fit. Congratulations to your family.

August 3, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterskip hellewell

As a missionary I was first assigned to an area where we rode bikes literally everywhere. I was free from depression and my anxiety levels were low. When we were given a car I gained weight and began to suffer from bouts of depression and my stress levels went up. I am an emotional eater so my diet also suffered. I didn't make the connection until after I came home. The first six months of my mission, when I was riding a bike, were by far the happiest and most successful. I struggle to find ways to get that much activity into my day now. Our family uses a rebounder and Pilates videos. I also use a simple resistance routine with hand held weights. I like the idea of a ball to sit on while doing desk work and I take a lot of walks when the weather permits. Moving around is something that actually adds to my energy level now, but when I first began exercising I often felt worn out. I have to eat right when I exercise or I'm not able to do much after working out. My husband found his own solution by setting up a group of friends who play basketball three mornings a week before they all go to work. He has to get up early but it makes such a difference in how he feels that he feels compelled to go despite the early hour.

August 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

Buy the golf cart Dad! We'll still get plenty of exercise lugging everything down the stairs to the beach and back!!

August 3, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrooke


Those first months of your service mission were perfect for you—with all that bike riding you were really living the muscular life. This is a great demonstration of how serious exercise not only makes us fit, it helps us to eat better, and boosts our mood.

August 4, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterskip hellewell

Those pictures are motivating!!!!!!

August 4, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarin

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