The Gym

Jul 25, 2019 | Articles

I can save you money!!

And no, it is not snake oil.

I’m old and pretty active. I play racquetball several times a week, I garden and haul big, 50 pound bags of “stuff” around and dig and bend over and weed and Kathleen makes sure my vegetable intake is pretty good. I also spend a lot of time sitting in a chair talking to people.

I do have some cardiac risk factors and my family history in that regard is not so good. One of the clinical tools we use in our medical practice is a Bioelectrical Impedance Analysis (BIA) machine that allows us to assess our clients’ percent body fat and muscle mass. You can get a rough estimate of your own by calculating your Body Mass Index but there are alot of factors that can make that technique inaccurate. I’ve been doing my BIA for several years, every six months or so. Maintaining a good amount of muscle, even if you’re overweight, is important. As we age, we tend to lose muscle and that accounts for a lot of disability, injuries and poor metabolic health.

Two years ago, I took mine and got a very unpleasant shock. Over 6 months, doing all the physical things I thought would preserve my muscles, I had lost 25 pounds of muscle. My eldest son Zeph, said, “Dad, that sounds pathological!”

I got pretty scared. As it dawned on me how much harder it had become to lift those 50 pound bags of fertilizer, I realized I was really getting weaker and hadn’t been paying attention. I started noticing that I was having some muscle pains and some muscle twitching called fasciculations that were an ominous sign of muscle deterioration – one that is often an initial sign of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis – Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

It scared Kathleen too and she went in to action. Within a few days I was being assessed by Curtis, a trainer at a local gym. Curtis is a minor god in our family now. I started three times a week under his guidance with a couple of purposes: increase muscle mass, balance, flexibility and challenge my nervous system with odd things like standing on one leg on an unstable half ball called a Bosu and do barbell bicep presses. (I believe, although he says it is not true, that he dreams these mini-tortures up in the middle of the night.) He is incredibly good natured, laughs when my little voice tells me this is stupid, and generally and surprisingly makes these work-outs something I look forward to. I also know he is literally saving my life.

Recent data show that if you are 70 years old (I passed this milestone 2 ½ years ago) and you take care to preserve muscle mass, you eat your vegetables and a good amount of good protein, sleep well and have good friends, your chance of getting to age 90 is over 50%. Take that same 70 year old, have him sit a lot indoors, eat the Standard American Diet (the SAD diet), isolate him and give him things to worry about and no tools to calm his nervous system, his chance of getting to 90 years is less than 5%! And that is not the saddest part. The saddest part is that he will spend a lot of money on health care, and his declining years will be filled with pain, loneliness and disability.

So my muscle mass is back up and I have better physical fitness now that when I was 45. My cardiac risk factors are reduced by about 80% because I exercise so hard. My mood is better as is my sleep.

The average couple reaching age 65 years, with Medicare, will spend $260,000 out-of-pocket on healthcare expenses. That number is hugely variable and can be minimized by the very same factors that preserve muscle mass. As they say, “you can do this!”

To Your Gym!
Michael Sharp, MD