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Exercise Hurts and Heals

There’s a poster hanging upstairs in my son’s room that offers some rather blunt health advice: “Don’t Exercise, Die Early!” It was created by an Alabama artist named Amos Paul Kennedy, who did not appear, upon first impressions, to heed his own warning. My Lovely Wife and I met him at an art show in downtown Minneapolis a few years ago. He was quite a character. Another of his posters proclaimed “Coffee Made Me Gay,” a statement that seemed more applicable.

I gave the poster to my son, who at the time was an aspiring jarhead. He stapled it to the wall of the bedroom he no longer occupies, as his aspirations have become reality. I glance at it every now and then while wandering around upstairs in search of inspiration or whatever else may be eluding me at the moment.

Whenever I spy the poster, though, I’m struck by its demanding, almost fatalistic, message. And by its misplaced urgency. Dying “early” is no longer an option for a guy my age, for one thing. And when a guy gets to be my age, the “exercise now” inclination is best moderated by good sense.

Every morning, I consider the pros and cons of a kettlebell workout or the relative advantages of hoisting my dumbbells to some good effect. What typically helps me decide is whether I’m experiencing any muscle soreness from recent exertions — workout-related or not.

Just Keep Moving

My general opinion is that if I’m feeling sore, I should not push it. The consequences are often — though not always — less than optimal. But a new study out of McMasters University offers some good news to geezers who are willing to keep moving. Their research suggests that any exercise you do as you enter your golden years actually speeds repair of the muscle tissue you’re stressing when you exercise.

It was once thought that our bodies gradually lost their ability to repair muscle tissue as we pushed through middle age and beyond, but McMaster researchers found that elderly mice were able to repair muscle tissue after only eight weeks of exercise. “This is a clean demonstration that the physiological and metabolic benefits of exercise radiate to skeletal satellite cells, the adult stem cells responsible for repair after injury, even in senescent animals,” said Thoru Pederson, PhD, editor in chief of The FASEB Journal, which published the results of the study. “Strikingly, even as the contractile elements of muscle tissue wane with age, the capacity of the satellite cells to respond to exercise is maintained.”

There is, of course, something a bit circular about this process: Exercise gives us sore muscle tissues even as it helps us repair our sore muscle tissues. You could be excused, I suppose, for thinking that perhaps avoiding exercise in the first place would make the muscle-repair process kind of a moot point.

But that would be silly. Along with those sore muscles, a regular exercise regimen boosts your mood, regulates your metabolism, and might prevent you from dying early. Unless it’s already too late for that

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