How Lack of Exercise Shortens Lives

BY Gabe Mirkin TIMEDecember 11, 2014 PRINT

One of the most important articles of the year shows that people die from inactivity, not just from aging. We know that as people age, they lose muscle, their immunities weaken and because of their weakened immunity, they are more likely to die of infectious diseases or cancers. This study shows that older men and younger men turn over body protein at the same rate. Lack of protein causes death. As you age, you lose your ability to kill germs because of lack of muscle. When a germ gets into your body, you must make proteins called antibodies and cells to kill these germs. However, antibodies and cells are made from protein, and the only place that you can store extra protein is in your muscles. When you have large muscles, you can take the protein from muscles and make antibodies and cells. When you have small muscles, you lack sources of amino acids to make proteins, and your immunity is inadequate to kill germs. You also need antibodies to control cancer cells, so with loss of protein comes loss of antibodies and increased susceptibility to suffer cancer.


When your skeletal muscles are small, so is your heart muscle. Anything that can affect your heart can kill a weak heart, while a strong heart may be able to withstand arteriosclerosis and infections. This study shows that aging does not cause muscles to get smaller; lack of exercise causes muscles to get smaller. With exercise, muscles are injured and they take a certain amount of time to heal from each exercise bout. With aging, it takes increasingly longer to recover from exercise. So most people get injured when they age or get tired too soon or feel sore too early, so they do less and less or they stop exercising altogether.

A major advantage of competing in sports is that it teaches a person how to avoid injury. Then you can exercise into your nineties without quitting or getting injured, so that you can retain muscle mass, keep up your immunity and live longer and healthier.


It’s never too late to start an exercise program to build muscle. First check with your doctor, because intense exercise can hurt a person with a heart problem. Then try to exercise at a very relaxed pace every day until your muscles feel heavy or hurt and then stop. When you can exercise every day for at least 20 minutes, you are ready to start training. Warm up by exercising at a relaxed pace for at least 10 minutes. Then pick up the pace until your muscles start to feel heavy or you become short of breath, and then slow down. Alternate these intense exercise / recovery bouts until your muscles start to stiffen, and then stop. Take the next day off. Then exercise for several days at a very slow and casual pace until your muscles are not sore. When your muscles feel fresh again, you can to repeat the intense workout. Most older people should not try to do intense workouts more often than once a week. If you have access to weight training machines (such as Nautilus), have a coach teach you how to do six to ten exercises and include this in your exercise routine.

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Gabe Mirkin
Sports medicine doctor, fitness guru and long-time radio host Gabe Mirkin, M.D. brings you news and tips for your healthful lifestyle. A practicing physician for more than 50 years and a radio talk show host for 25 years, Dr. Mirkin is a graduate of Harvard University and Baylor University College of Medicine. He is one of a very few doctors board-certified in four specialties: Sports Medicine, Allergy and Immunology, Pediatrics and Pediatric Immunology.
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