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We had someone majoring in Exercise Sports Science over for dinner this week. He made some comments about muscles that I found intriguing. The conversation started when I said that because I was so sedentary as a child, I had never developed my upper body muscles. He said that my muscles were fixed genetically; that I was born with all of the muscle tissue that I would have, and that what I did in childhood couldn’t change that.
I said I knew too many people who had been very scrawny, but through weight lifting had built up lots of muscle. Arnold Schwarzenegger certainly wasn’t born looking like he looks today! I also mentioned the constant battle that women over 50 fight with losing muscle mass.
ESS countered with information that was new to me. There is a difference between skeletal muscle tissue and muscle fibers. Skeletal muscles are the long cells that are attached to the bones. These muscles are determined genetically. The ones you are born with are the ones you will have for life. He gave an example of someone he knew who had a severe injury that resulted in the loss of a large part of the skeletal muscle on the calf of one leg. Years later after the injury had healed, the muscles were still missing and one leg looked very different from the other.
Muscle fibers (which come in three types and determine whether someone is a good long or short distance runner) can be built and can be lost. This ties in with what my PT son once said about the body not beginning to build muscle tissue until six weeks after an exercise program is started. The long skeletal muscles do the extra work for a short term increase in activity (like a New Year’s resolution to start an exercise program). The body waits until it perceives that additional strength will be needed for the long term before it starts construction of muscle fibers. It is the fibers that add bulk and tone to the body. Muscle fiber cells can increase; they can also shrink and be lost.
I asked about fat, hoping that what I had heard about fat cells was false. Unfortunately it is true. Fat cells can be created, but they cannot be destroyed. “This,” ESS said with a smile, “is why liposuction was invented.
When a person overeats, fat cells are created. Once they are there, they never go away. They can shrink or fill up, but they are permanent.
So what does all of this anatomical knowledge mean to those of us on the BTD.
1. Beware of any kind of overeating that adds more fat. You may tell yourself that you can lose the weight. In reality, you can shrink the cells, but the fat tissue is there to stay.
2. Take your children’s weight seriously. They will pay the price later in life for fat cells that they build when they are young. Children won’t understand this. It’s just another responsibility of being a parent. (I strongly feel that it is NOT a government responsibility, but a parent’s responsibility.)
3. When you start a weight program, do not be easily discouraged. You will not start building fibers for six weeks.
4. Especially for women, weight lifting is a lifetime commitment. To keep our bones strong, we have to keep those muscle fibers working.
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