I once met the owner of a big, successful General Motors dealership, looking splendorous in his pin-striped suit and wingtips. Noticing my smirk at his tie clasp, which was a classy silver number embossed with the letters YCDBSOYA, he said, “I’ll bet you don’t know what it means.” I surprised him with a quick, “You Can’t Do Business Sitting On Your Ass”.That exact expression may not pertain to your health or fitness, but the principle certainly does. If we substitute “Stay Healthy” for “Do Business”, we get YCSHSOYA, which relates directly to your health and fitness. We’ve long touted activity’s positive benefits here, but an elf making a list last month said a few – hundred million – of you are still inactive. So let’s try the converse approach and see whether the specific negative results of inactivity -- SOYA -- will motivate some holdouts to make and keep a life-changing New Year’s resolution to exercise more.
The Nutrition Action Healthletter discussed ten perils of SOYA, and we added another. We hope that many of you will change the negative YCSHSOYA mantra to a more positive YCSHGOYA: You Can Stay Healthy Getting Off Your Ass, i.e., getting some exercise. GOYA good, SOYA baaaaaaad.(A tip to those who got here by Googling the Okinowan goya chamble diet or its soya bean ingredient: this ain’t it. But keep reading; this is still very relevant to your health.)
Most of our body’s cells were programmed eons ago to conserve energy via atrophy when unchallenged, in case our next leg ‘o mammoth was days away. Atrophy still begins even in kids with their pockets full of Twinkies, the rate of atrophy increases with age and inactivity, and the rate falls off a cliff by your 70s if you SOYA.
Fortunately, it works both ways. GOYA stimulates vigor and growth in cells it stresses, and can help reverse the damage done by SOYA even well into our 90s. Barring bad genes, bad treatment, and bad luck, many bodies have the capacity to stay vigorous and robust until almost triple digits . . . if SOYA lets you live that long. Here’s what SOYA does to us.1. With inactivity, our insulin system degrades, often leading to pre-diabetes, which often leads to self-induced Type II diabetes whether we’re 80 or eight. Experts have suggested that the metabolic syndrome leading to Type II diabetes should be called the inactivity syndrome. The syndrome responds quickly to GOYA, but the damage may have already begun imperceptibly. The sooner you GOYA, the less likely you are to be harmed by self-induced Type II diabetes. 2. Inactive people have a roughly 50% greater incidence of colon cancer, probably due to one or more of these known effects of GOYA: activity speeds up the transit of carcinogens through the colon, enhances our immune system to fight all forms of cancer, and reduces our weight (overweight people get more colon cancer). 3. Less exercise = more dementia.
It’s time here to mention that these negative effects of inactivity are not mere statistical correlations. We just don’t have the space here for the extensive medical explanations and pathology strongly supporting cause and effect.4. In one very large study, people who didn’t regularly exercise had twice the heart disease rate of those who walk briskly for an hour each week. Heart, blood vessel, and cholesterol health all benefit dramatically in many ways from even very modest regular exercise. 5. Inactive people have a one-third greater risk of stroke than active people. Mechanisms? Higher blood pressure, less good cholesterol, and more blood clots. 6. Muscles lose both mass and strength per mass with age. Only continued, regular, proper muscle challenge such as weight training can easily halt and reverse the loss. What’s “proper”? If you can repeat a lift 15 times, add weight. If you cannot (as opposed to “don’t wanna”) do 8 reps, use less weight. Shriveled geezers in their ‘90s achieve dramatic physical (and mental) improvements when they start pumping iron. A prestigious Cooper Institute physician says the best way to stay out of a nursing home is regular exercise, and we add that no one has ever been (legally) buried while briskly walking.
But I’ve got to add this personal caveat. My muscles have muscles, and they’re from decades of long, hard, intense, addictive, gleeful play several days a week, year-round until lately, with only occasional Bowflex or – shudder – gym sessions. But increasing age, the four-month winter doldrums we moved to a few years ago, personal observation, and this article have persuaded me that’s got to change. If I can drag myself to a danged GYM, anyone can.7. As soon as we stop getting taller, our bones begin deteriorating and osteoporosis begins, compounded by inactivity. Any exercise which loads bones significantly helps a little, but it takes intense bone loading much like that of proper (see #6) weight lifting to really slow or maybe even halt bone loss. The real key is plenty of the right nutrition and exercise throughout our bone-building growth years. 8. Inactive people are more likely to be depressed, and GOYA helps prevent and/or cure depression. A study of 2,000 people showed that jogging, cycling, etc. 30 minutes a day relieved depression more than ten minutes a day did, in fact as much as drugs or cognitive behavioral therapy did. Even if you’re not depressed, each session of moderate GOYA just makes you feel better, within hours. 9. Weight . . . Duh: calories in vs calories out. Losing by starvation while SOYA leads to muscle loss and diet failure. The evidence is utterly overwhelming; you must GOYA to manage an obesity problem. How much exercise? Simple, in principle: just eat healthy foods and work or play as required to drive your weight in the right direction, and keep at it for life. A monumental tip: find a form of vigorous play you love. And, remember, your health will improve much more rapidly than your scale weight. 10. SOYA degrades your immune system, increasing susceptibility to diseases. Regular, moderate exercise boosts immunity. Prolonged SOYA punctuated by a mad day of hard GOYA (such as the monthly company soccer game) leads to inflammation, another marker of a weakened immune system. Even for serious athletes, a marathon effort increases the incidence of colds, a well-accepted indicator of a weakened immune system. So, weekend athletes, beware: long, steady GOYA is much healthier than intermittent, intense sports separated by SOYA, especially as you age. Combining the two will provide the best motivational and healthy synergy, as regular moderate exercise keeps you ready for intermittent big events. 11. SOYA also significantly decreases your ability to GOYA. Our aerobic (oxygen metabolism) capacity, which limits our capacity for physical work or play, begins declining in our 20s at several percent per decade, speeds up significantly around middle age, and diminishes by 20% in our 70s alone. Only challenging physical exercise can avoid or reverse that loss, and can be quite effective even in centenarians. Here are some more specific exercise duration guidelines:
A. To ward off disease, get 30 minutes most days of moderate aerobic exercise, such as swimming, jogging, brisk walking, heavy yard work, or cycling.
B. To maintain a major weight loss while eating a healthy and satisfying quantity of food, you’re probably going to need more than an hour a day of that type of exercise. Find productive physical work and/or play you enjoy and make it a habit. Riding mowers and snow blowers are silly for anyone who spends – or should spend -- time and money at the gym.
C. For bones and muscles – the latter a major player in burning fat 24/7 – do strength training exercises at 8-15 reps at least twice a week. Important caveats: past your 50s, intensive weight lifting more than once every 5-6 days or for fewer than two sets will wear you down rather than build you up.