Have you ever had a cast on your arm for several weeks and found that the muscles in that arm were much smaller than the muscles in the other arm once the cast came off? The shrinkage of these muscles is called atrophy. Why does this happen? It’s simple, really, and makes great sense once you understand it.
There are many principles that apply to the human body, one of those is “use it or lose it.” The reason muscles atrophy when in a cast is that they are not being used, thus there is no reason to maintain their size or strength.
The human body is extremely intelligent in its design. It is always adapting to its environment and functioning in a way to maximize performance, energy, and growth. Why would your body expend energy maintaining the size and strength of a muscle if you are not using it? That would not make biological sense.
And it’s not just muscle that is lost if not used. This principle applies to bone, brain function, lung tissue, sexual function, and just about any other bodily function you can think of.
When osteoporosis is being discussed, calcium always gets all the attention. More calcium is being consumed by more women than ever before, yet the rates of osteoporosis continue to explode. It is important to eat calcium-rich foods and take calcium supplements, but it doesn’t matter how much calcium you consume if you do not engage in resistance training. The only way the body will use the calcium to make thicker, stronger bones is if the body senses the need for thicker, stronger bones. If you are sedentary and not using your body in a way that would require thick bones, the body will not waste the time and energy laying down that extra bone.
Wellness expert, Dr. James Chestnut, gives the example of protein drinks. He says taking calcium to improve bone density and not exercising is like drinking protein shakes to get bigger biceps, but not lifting weights. It just won’t happen.
Many of the problems that the body experiences as it ages get blamed on age itself. We have bought into the idea that as we age, stuff just shrivels up, weakens, and ultimately stops working. In reality, the less we use our bodies, the weaker they become. Studies have now proven that we can build muscle tissue well into old age. Not only can you regain age-related muscle loss, you can pack on new muscle.
What about the brain? It is now known that our brain is constantly changing and will improve if stimulated to do so. Neuroplasticity is the term used to describe the brain’s ability to create new pathways and connections in a continued effort to adapt to lifestyle changes and stimulation. Inactivity and lack of stimulation will lead to adverse changes in brain function, leading to memory issues, balance and coordination problems, and loss of cognitive function. Conversely, if you use it, you’re less likely to lose it. Aging may affect the speed at which you can improve brain function, but studies have proven that you really can teach an old dog new tricks.
Have your joints tightened? Has your range of motion reduced? Have you lost muscle tone and overall strength diminished? Blame it on whatever you want, but if you are not using it, you will lose it. My guess is, you are not using it.
Your body comes with such great abilities. You must use everything you have. Your joints need to be moved, your muscles need to be flexed, your brain needs to be stimulated, your lungs need to be expanded, and your heart needs to be pumped. If you aren’t using it, you are definitely losing it.