Use it or lose it!

The New York Times recently highlighted several studies about the consequences of being a couch potato.  Earlier science has suggested that if you’re a relatively active person and you suddenly start sitting for long periods, your metabolism will go way down, and your body will start developing unhealthy symptoms, like lower blood sugar response.  The good news was that if you started moving again, these symptoms mostly reverse themselves. New studies point to some limits on that good news.

In earlier studies, the test subjects were mostly young, healthy college students.  The new studies drew from older pools of test subjects. In the first one, scientists studied healthy adults who were free from symptoms of diabetes and who took at least 10,000 steps every day.  When these people were forced to take fewer than 2,000 steps per day, they started to develop symptoms of their metabolisms slowing down–lower insulin response, less muscle mass, and more fat around their abdomens.  When these people started moving again, most of them saw their metabolisms return to normal, but some of them never recovered their normal metabolic function, and they never returned to their earlier levels of activity.  This suggests that for some people, the damage from taking a break from activity can be permanent.

In another study, scientists focused on senior citizens who were overweight with high blood sugar, but who were otherwise active and healthy, taking at least 7,000 steps every day.  When these people were forced to go down to fewer than 1,000 steps per day for two weeks, their insulin resistance shot up, and some had to be removed from the study because they had become diabetic.  The majority of the other study participants didn’t fully recover their metabolisms even when they started moving again.

So what does that mean?  It means that the older you get, the more important it is to stay active.  Every time you stop, it gets harder to start again, and the consequences last longer.  You don’t have to train for a marathon, you just have to get moving every day.

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