Fitness: your muscles are always talking, but are you listening?


Dr Mark Houston, a professor of clinical cardiology at the Vanderbilt

University School of Medicine in the United States published a book in about 2012 called Heart Disease. In it, Dr Houston explained how exercise can alter the way many genes function and interact with your cells and noted that, unfortunately, many people are doing the wrong kind of exercise.

‘Your muscles are always talking,’ he wrote. ‘What they’re saying depends on what you’re doing. High-intensity exercise gets the muscles talking the most. Exercise using full body movements, incorporating great amounts of muscle, requiring a combination of strength and endurance, and forcing the muscles to do lots of work in a little bit of time cause the muscles to shout out a unique message that sets in motion a powerful muscle-building, fat-burning, anti-inflammatory, and brain-stimulating effect.’

Dr Houston said, ‘Doing a thousand sit-ups, jogging 10 miles [16 kilometres], or practicing yoga every day won’t do the trick.’ Houston believes all the focus is on exercising the heart and burning calories, when it should be on challenging the muscles. As Houston notes, when muscles move, ‘they release powerful messenger molecules that ‘speak’ to every organ in the body and determine whether oxidation and inflammation are encouraged or discouraged, fat is burned or stored, new tissue is created, and much more.’

The kind of exercise you do is important, because not all exercise has the same effect on genetic signaling. You’ve only got to look at the stark difference between sprinters and marathon runners. ‘While the short, intense activity of sprinting does not burn many calories, it triggers the release of

adrenaline, human growth hormone, cortisol, and testosterone,’ notes Houston. ‘This hormonal mix elevates calorie consumption for hours and even days after the sprinter has stopped running.’ By contrast, long-distance running doesn’t have the same impact. ‘Instead, it leads to the production of a different hormonal mix that causes muscle wasting, inefficient metabolic processing, and physical decay.’

So, doing exercise which is intense but quick and involves as much of the body as possible will promote fat burning and control inflammation. Muscles have the ‘ability to communicate with the rest of the body and encourage healing, slow aging of the arteries/aging in general, reduce morbidity and mortality, and promote better health.’

The bottom line is that high intensity exercise may not be the most enjoyable to perform (at least in the initial stages of an exercise program), but the end results in just a relatively short period of time (over six weeks or so) makes intense exercise well worth the effort.