Many years ago, I changed the adage “You are what you eat” to “You are what you eat and absorb.” My main focus in changing this adage was directed at women and their calcium consumption. The main reason women develop osteoporosis is because their body doesn’t absorb calcium well. Unfortunately, instead of helping absorb the calcium they get naturally in a healthful diet, many women take too much calcium. This can cause all sorts of health problems, including heart disease.
Well, today, I want to change this adage one more time. And, once again, it has to do with calcium and the health of your bones and muscles. Today, I’m changing this adage to “You are what you eat, absorb, and do.”
I have to make this change because the science surrounding calcium continues to evolve. And it continues to support what I’ve said all along. You take plenty of calcium. But you don’t maximize how your body uses it. And a new study suggests exercise is a critical component of calcium metabolism.
This new study is in the journal Cell Metabolism. The researchers who wrote the report discovered that you can dramatically change your DNA for the better simply by “doing.”
In other words, they found that your DNA changes structurally and chemically when you exercise. And, if you’ve been inactive, the change can be significant. While the change doesn’t alter your genetic makeup, it does alter the health of your muscles.
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For years, science thought that a lack of exercise just caused your muscles to atrophy (become smaller). They didn’t realize that it actually causes the health of your muscles to decline. Here’s what happens.
The lead author of the study, Juleen Zierath, Professor of Clinical Integratice Physiology at the Department of Molecular Medicine and Surgery, says exercise induces “changes in muscle, including increased metabolism of sugar and fat. Our discovery is that the methylation change comes first.”
Methylation is the alteration of the DNA. So exercise causes this change in your DNA. Then something amazing happens to your muscles. The change opens up the cells in your muscles. When these cells open up, two things happen. First, important enzymes enter into your muscle cells, improving their health. Second, your muscles release calcium! This calcium then becomes available to your bones.
In fact, I suspect exercise actually causes the muscles to push the calcium into the bones. While there isn’t any direct proof of this, we know exercise builds your bones. And it has to get the material (i.e., calcium) to build from somewhere. Since this study proves exercise causes muscles to release calcium, and it causes bones to flex (opening up bone cells), it creates the perfect opportunity for calcium to transfer from your muscles into your bones.
So if you want to protect your bones, your muscles, and your overall health, you have to exercise. It doesn’t have to be hard jogging. You just have to move. The more you move the better. Just don’t sit down all day. Remember, you are what you eat, absorb, and do!
One interesting side note: If you’re bedridden or can’t exercise for some reason, you can still help your muscles release calcium simply by drinking caffeinated beverages. While it’s not as effective as exercise, caffeine has the same effect on your muscles and calcium. The most healthful caffeinated beverage you can drink for this is green tea. And if it’s just your legs that keep you from walking, then make sure you exercise your arms. Every little bit helps.
Your voice of reason in Women's Health,
Dr. Janet Zand