As many of you know, the Spectathlete lives for blogging, tweeting and all things social media related. He brightens my day by sending me Youtube clips of talking dogs or blog posts describing 101 ways to make peanut butter desserts. So it wasn't that surprising when he sent me this gem from the blog Neatorama: (http://www.neatorama.com/2012/02/03/cross-sections-of-human-legs/)
Do you know what you're looking at? No? Well, I'll tell you. These are MRI images of human leg muscles. The top and bottom images are from triathletes, and the middle image is that of a sedentary 74 year old. The dark area in the middle image is adipose tissue - otherwise known as body fat. Notice how the body fat is absent from the triathletes' images - eye opening, isn't it?
While the Spectathlete found these images on Neatorama, they were originally published the in Journal of Physican and Sports Medicine as part of a study called Chronic Exercise Preserves Lean Muscle Mass in Masters Athletes. According to the study:
"...many of the diseases and infirmities exclusively attributed to aging are more accurately related to the effects of sedentary living. Sedentary seniors decline twice as fast as their active counterparts, and their highest level of conditioning affects their overall level of decline. A growing subset of older individuals has maintained higher functional capacity and quality of life through exercise. Exercise improves quality of life by decreasing body fat (BF) and obesity rates, increasing muscle strength, improving balance, gait, and mobility, decreasing the likelihood of falling, improving psychological health, reducing arthritis pain, and reducing the risk of developing coronary heart disease, hypertension, osteoporosis, cancer, and diabetes."
This study is absolutely fascinating because it attempts dispel the myth that becoming frail is inevitable with age. The authors set out to prove that "we are capable of preserving both muscle mass and strength with lifelong physical activity."
"We proposed that high-level recreational athletes, known as masters athletes (athletes who train 4 to 5 times per week), participating in chronic high-level exercise may not demonstrate the same loss of total lean muscle mass and lower-extremity performance witnessed with sedentary aging. Masters athletes continue to exhibit high levels of functional capacity and quality of life throughout their lifespan."
I know some people who keep photos of skinny swimsuit models on their refrigerators for motivation not to cheat on their diets, but I intend on putting these MRI's all over my house as a reminder to stick to my training plan even when my legs are aching or I think I'm too tired to work out. Staying strong and lean is important not only for my racing performance, but it's vital for staying healthy well into my 70's.
"We found that chronic intense exercise preserved muscle mass and prevented fat infiltration of muscle in masters athletes."
I won't lie - some of the reasons why I tri (today) include the instant gratification of setting a PR and being able to slip into a size 4 dress a few times a year. But I also log in the training hours as an insurance policy that my body will still be able to swim, bike and run in 40 years. Glad to know that there's some medical and scientific proof that it's good for me!
Why do you tri? Do you log in the training hours for health, vanity, competition or all of the above? Drop me a comment and let me know!