Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Atrophy: Use it or Lose it

Hypertrophy is a term that refers to increasing the size of a muscle. This is achieved by utilizing the overload principle and this is what body builders are constantly tyring to accomplish. The opposite of hypertrophy is atrophy, which refers to cells decreasing in size or wasting away. The biggest cause of atrophy is misuse or inactivity, but it can also be caused by poor circulation, poor nutrition, or disease.

When astronauts go into space and live in an environment without gravity for an extended time, they lose muscle mass. For this reason, they usually bulk up before a mission and participate in resistance training while in orbit to reduce the loss of muscle mass.

I recently had surgery on my elbow and had my right arm immobilized in a cast/sling for nearly three weeks. Once it came off, I was shocked and depressed to see how much muscle I had lost during such a short amount of time. (And I thought it was impossible for my arms to get any skinnier.) It reminded me of the movie "Lady in the Water" which features a quirky character who only works out the right side of his body and as a result he is skinny on one side.

Unfortunately, it always takes longer to get into shape than it does to fall back out of shape. If you take 7-14 days off and completely stop exercising, you can lose what took you months to achieve. That is why regular exercise is so important to help you maintain your fitness level. In a worst case scenario, just working out once or twice a week can still help you maintain your fitness level and keep you from going backwards, although that it obviously not an ideal workout schedule.

The advice "use it or lose it" is not only true for physical conditioning, but also with languages, music, and other skills you may have developed. The good news is that the human body is very forgiving and resilient and you can get back into shape if you are currently deconditioned.


Raymond- ZenMyFItness said...

For sure I know this is exactly true … as I get older ( like Im nearly 50) I can see it I don't keep on exercising resistance and cardio stuff then weight comes on very easily and worse is going into old age not having a strong body is a hugh problem

Dave said...

It really makes perfect sense...keep using your muscles so they won't go away. Fortunately I've never been in a cast but everyone I know comes out the same way, with significantly reduced mass in that area from lack of use.