Use it or lose it: Exercise – What do you really lose?

what do you lose

Muscle Mass?



Heart Health?


Exercise is a necessary piece of the puzzle to regaining health, staying healthy, enjoying a long life (longevity), and overall mental well-being.

The term “use it or lose it,” is often used in health and fitness to depict the health or functional decline of some aspect of our health due to inactivity or stimulation.

The question is, “what is really lost?”

Regarding exercise, fitness, healthy aging, and even metabolic health (insulin resistance, diabetes, heart disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, obesity, etc.), something vital to health and well-being links all of these health issues together. It is lost through inactivity, but it’s not what most people think.

What isn’t lost when you don’t use it:

  • Muscle Mass 
  • Strength
  • Stability
  • Heart Health
  • Coordination

Before you jump all over me, tell me how I am wrong, and scream that WE DO lose all of those things through inactivity, let me be specific and clarify.

All those negative health issues and many more are eventually associated with inactivity.

It’s not the inactivity that directly causes them.

What is lost through inactivity is the ability to store energy in our muscles. It’s called our glycogen capacity. 

Inactivity will cause a decrease in our body’s ability to store energy (glucose) in the form of glycogen in our muscles. Over time, this decreased glycogen capacity contributes significantly to the health conditions we see with inactivity and poor physical fitness. 

The glycogen capacity, or the ability to store glycogen, can vary more than 4,000% between a competitive athlete and an inactive or sedentary person. 

I’m not saying we all need to become elite athletes. I, for one, am certainly not, but even someone who exercises regularly can have the ability to store glycogen 2,000% more than an inactive person. That is a 20-fold difference!

The ability to store and move energy in and out of our glycogen stores is a crucial buffer and critical component of our metabolic and overall health.

The inability to store glucose (energy) in our muscles is a key factor in weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and all chronic disease. The energy that could be stored in muscle with a healthy glycogen capacity has to go somewhere when that capacity is reduced and converted to body fat and backs up into the blood, causing blood sugars to rise.

Many people incorrectly believe and proclaim that exercise helps people with blood sugar problems like diabetes because it burns off the extra glucose in the blood, and the numbers come down. 

The exercise is actually stimulating the body to increase its glycogen capacity based on the new exercise demand. Blood glucose is then stored in the muscle instead of in the blood.

Increasing glycogen capacity is one of the four physiological changes that must occur to reverse insulin resistance and diabetes physiologically, independent of blood sugar. Here are the four requirements:

The body is a demand-driven machine, not supply-driven. You must create the demand for a change to see one. In this case, increasing glycogen storage capacity requires exercise.

What exercise is best? Intense exercise. 

If starting with zero, yes, any exercise will shift you toward the positive side of the health spectrum, but it will not be enough to restore or maintain health. To do this, the exercise must provide a high demand for change and be difficult. Doubling, tripling, never mind increasing glycogen capacity 20 fold is a big ask and takes a big effort.

Types of intensity exercise:

  • Weight Lifting
  • High-Intensity Interval Training
  • Peak Training
  • Sprinting

Essentially working out very hard for short spurts of time. In my programs, I start with our “12-Minute Workouts.” It doesn’t have to be a long, drawn-out, boring workout. Just 12 minutes a workout, when done correctly 3-4 times a week, can do the trick when done consistently.

For example, workouts, videos, write-ups, and more info on metabolic health. Please keep following and join my group, “Insulin Friendly Fasting Secrets.”

Hard work is always worth it. In this case, it’s health-restoring and life-saving.

We can do better!

Dr. Don

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