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Loss of Muscle Strength Can Happen Quickly

Even when you're young and healthy, not using your legs for as little as two weeks can sap a third of your muscle strength. New research from the University of Copenhagen reveals that immobility lasting for just two weeks would reduce the leg muscle strength of a young man to that of someone 40 to 50 years older. The Danish researchers looked into the question of how inactivity affects leg muscle strength by immobilizing young and older male volunteers with a leg pad for two weeks. They report that while the young men lost up to a third of their muscle strength, the older ones lost about one-fourth. That loss is more significant than it may seem since the older men presumably already had reduced muscle strength due to age and would end up with much less physical capability than the younger group, the researchers reported. They found that biking three or four times a week for six weeks after the period of immobility didn't completely restore muscle strength even in the younger group. Cycling brought back muscle mass but to get to their original levels of strength, the men had to include weight training in their workouts.

My take? This study presents a rather dramatic "use it or lose it" scenario. With luck, few of us will be completely immobilized for two weeks (or more), but accidents do happen, as do illnesses that can lay you low and keep you there from time to time. It's worth heeding this study's message - that to restore your fitness you have to do more than just return to your usual workout, you'll also have to include strength training (something I regard as an essential part of any exercise program along with aerobic exercise for cardiovascular fitness and stretching for flexibility).

Do You Warm Up and Cool Down When You Exercise? (Poll)

A recent Q&A discussed whether a cool down is necessary and beneficial after a workout: Cooling Down After Exercise? Check out the article and let us know whether you warm up or cool down, or both, while exercising.

No Surprise: Massage Therapy Works

In case you had any doubts, a new study from the University of Illinois at Chicago found that massage can relieve muscle soreness and improve general blood flow. The researchers noted that until now, no studies had actually validated what this investigation focused on – whether massage therapy is beneficial for aching muscles after exercise, and if the intervention improves circulation. For the study, healthy but inactive adults were asked to exercise on a standard leg-press machine until their legs were sore. Then half of the participants received massage on their lower extremities while the other half did not. After completing 90 minutes of therapy, the participants in the massage group reported no continuing soreness, while those in the the group that did not get massages were still sore 24 hours later. The researchers also reported improved blood flow (measured in the brachial artery of the upper arm) in the participants who received after-exercise massage, while the non-massage group had reduced blood flow at 90 minutes, 24 hours and 48 hours after exercise (their blood flow returned to normal at 72 hours). Because blood flow was improved in a part of the body distant from both the site of injury and the massage, the finding suggests a “systemic rather than just a local response,” the researchers concluded.

Nina Cherie Franklin et al, “Massage Therapy Restores Peripheral Vascular Function following Exertion”, Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, doi: 10.1016/j.apmr.2014.02.007.