March 23, 2015

Ask the Doctors

I am 63 years old and walk 10,000 steps every day. I’m in good health (I think!), but was recently surprised to learn that my handgrip strength is lower than it should be for my age. How can that be? I’m so faithful in my walking exercise program! Should I believe the findings from this health fair?

Thank you for this timely and important question. We have often responded to questions on exercise and its importance to balanced, healthful living. It cannot be overemphasized that regular—in fact, daily—exercise is probably the single most important factor that positively influences longevity (apart from our genes). Exercise not only improves physical health, but enhances our mental and spiritual well-being.

Daily exercise keeps our muscles conditioned (efficient utilization of blood supply and oxygen use), can help in keeping weight controlled, decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes, helps to reverse type 2 diabetes, reduces the risk of certain cancers (breast and colon cancer), improves cognitive function, and helps to manage and prevent depression. In short, exercise is wonderfully beneficial. The 10,000 steps each day that you mention, or even more, is ideal.

Now, let’s get to the core of your question. As healthful and helpful as aerobic exercise is, we need to focus our attention on resistance (muscle-strengthening) exercise as well. Aerobic exercises include such activities as walking, jogging, cycling, swimming, and tennis. Resistance training includes the use of our muscles not just to propel us along, as it were, but to develop muscle strength. This may be done in a variety of ways, including weight training (not necessarily the heavy weights used by the body builders!), push-ups, sit-ups, abdominal crunches, and the careful use of elasticized exercise bands. These are useful for increasing not only arm strength but also the core muscles, which support our posture: the muscles surrounding the spine, the shoulders, the pelvis, and our abdominal wall.

Our existence has generally become more and more sedentary. We sit in offices; work at computers; and use elevators, escalators, and moving walkways in airports and in malls. Additionally, we have leaf blowers and self-propelled or riding lawn mowers, and we park as close to our destination as possible. All these factors have contributed to our becoming less active, heavier, and weaker (less muscle strength), and having less vitality. There is much scientific literature that substantiates the value of aerobic exercise—and the Adventist Church has been blessed to have had all the “breaking news” on this 150 years ago!

There is also much evidence proving the benefits of maintaining muscle strength and muscle mass. It’s been shown that surgical outcomes, both emergent (accident) and elective (such as joint replacements, nonurgent hernia repairs, etc.), are far better in individuals of all age groups—but especially older people—who have preserved muscle mass and strength. A recent and compelling study with 3,659 patients aged 55 years or older if male, and 65 years or older if female, showed that strengthened muscle mass improved all outcomes as well as what is termed “all-cause mortality.” The authors comment that muscle mass may be as important as body mass (a measure of body fat relating weight to height) in determining optimal health.*

How do you increase muscle strength? Do graded weight training, using five-, 10-, or 20-pound weights to strengthen the arms. Wear ankle weights when you do leg raises. If your balance is sure, carry five- or 10-pound weights in your hands when walking. While sitting, watching your favorite Hope Channel program, exercise your arm muscles with weights appropriate to your strength (instead of your jaw muscles by snacking!). For travelers, procure elasticized exercise bands; they do help!

There is much that we can do, so let’s just do it and “not be weary in well-doing!” (Gal. 6:9, KJV).

* Preethi Srikanthan and Arun S. Karmangla, in American Journal of Medicine 127, no. 6 (June 2015): 547-553.

Send your questions to Ask the Doctors, Adventist Review, 12501 Old Columbia Pike, Silver Spring, Maryland 20904. Or e-mail them to [email protected]. While this column is provided as a service to our readers, Drs. Landless and Handysides unfortunately cannot enter into personal and private communication with our readers. We recommend you consult with your personal physician on all matters of your health.