Like the ebb and flow of the tides, the water in these machines’ cylinders shifts to alter resistance.
Muscle & Fitness
Illustration by Mark Strassner
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Doris Barrilleaux — mother of five, grandmother, photographer, editor, stewardess, IFBB chairwoman and competition Judge —
handles more tasks at 51 than most women are capable of at 21.
Consistent exercise and proper diet help her nullify the slow-down associated with aging. Bed rest similarly results in a decreased cardiac output and stroke volume.
Systolic blood pressure [pressure at the contraction of the heart, as opposed to diastolic pressure when the heart is expanding and filling with blood] increases with age and weightlessness. A study group exercised eight subjects 55-78 years of age and noted a fall in systolic blood pressure, indicating that at least some of the supposed age change may be due to inactivity.
In astronauts, the sense of balance is decreased, but a program of in-bed exercise can largely offset this loss. Physical inactivity, weightlessness and aging all result in a loss of body water. One researcher reported a decrease of body water from 62% of body-weight at the age of 25 to 53% at the age of 75. In one bed-rest study, plasma volume fell 11%, 15% in another.
The cellular components of blood show kindred alterations with age and inactivity, and in the astronauts in the Skylab program. In all three circumstances, red blood cell mass is diminished. One research group reported decreased production of red cells and
lymphocytes as the result of space flight. Aging and physical inactivity share an increased tendency to blood clotting.
Among the most commonly noted physical changes with age is a loss of lean bodymass. Accompanying this are a loss of bodyweight and a relative increase of bodyfat. Protein wastage is evidenced by an increased nitrogen excretion in the urine. As a person is put to bed, the identical changes are seen. One researcher reported that 40 of the 43 astronauts suffered a net loss of 2.8 kilograms, or slightly more than five pounds, of bodymass during flight.
Numerous workers have shown that an active exercise program is able to reverse the body composition changes in older people. For example, masterclass athletes have less than 14% bodyfat in contrast to the 30% or more of the average older person. In a similar way, the decreased muscle strength shown to accompany aging, inactivity and weightlessness can be counteracted by a program of active muscle use.
Calcium wastage is consistently recorded as one of the hallmarks of the aging process. Osteoporosis and hip
and vertebral fractures are the epidemic results of this process.
Bed rest and immobilization are accompanied by calcium deficit. The Skylab astronauts lost four grams of body calcium a month during space flights of up to 84 days. Researchers have estimated that the continued loss may preclude space missions more than nine months long unless effective countermeasures are developed. Such attempts are under way.
Attempts to correct the calcium loss by supine exercises (up to four hours daily of bicycling) have been unsuccessful. A group of researchers estimated that three hours of daily standing is the minimum effective duration to reverse the loss of calcium through disuse. As far as I know, there are no studies indicating that osteoporosis, once established, can be reversed or attenuated by a program of physical activity, although such a result would seem likely.
Metabolic and Regulatory Function
Most of the alterations described thus far have represented structural phenomena common to aging and inactivity. There exist corresponding functional changes as well. These range from slowed bowel functions to disordered glucose tolerance. Numerous workers have described the altered tolerance to glucose with aging to the extent that some correction of the standard normal values for the glucose tolerance test may be appropriate for age. Of interest is the observation that bed rest also causes a substantial intolerance to glucose. Vertically immobilized monkeys likewise demonstrated the glucose abnormality, indicating that decreased physical activity rather than gravity was the cause. The degree of abnormality is in proportion to the degree of immobilization, and doing isotonic and isometric exercises improves the defect.
The association of changes in sexual function and aging is renowned. The use of androgens and estrogens to offset the effects of aging has underlaid much “youth therapy.” Plasma testosterone levels are either unchanged or slightly lowered with age. Less fully appreciated are the observations that serum androgen levels decrease with enforced inactivity and increase with exercise. One research group reported that ambulatory men had a mean serum androgen level of 5.5 milligrams per liter, while 15 immobilized men had a mean value of 0.6 milligrams per liter. Similarly, immobilized monkeys show decreased (Continued on page 186)