UK center probes the science of muscles and exercise

Exercise is good for you. But it’s not that simple. “Doctors and scientists have a lot of questions about why exercise is so beneficial, how muscles work and the role muscle strength plays in overall health,” columnist Tom Eblen writes on the front page of today’s Lexington Herald-Leader, and reports that some of those questions are being addressed by the University of Kentucky Center for Muscle Biology, which was created three years ago. “With outside grants of more than $12 million, center researchers are looking at everything from injury prevention in young athletes to rehabilitation for elderly stroke patients,” he writes.

”Physical activity and muscle strength seem to contribute to everything from better memory to disease prevention. For example, even moderate exercise can help Type 2 diabetes, which has become epidemic among overweight Kentuckians. Muscles store most of the body’s insulin.” The center’s director, Karyn Karyn Esser, told Eblen, “When you exercise and make muscles work, it creates a separate path for absorbing glucose.” (Eblen photo: Caitlyn Kerins demonstrated equipment for measuring muscle control as faculty member Patrick McKeon watched.)

Two researchers are studying how to strengthen diaphragm muscles, which are essential in breathing, “to help patients get off ventilators. It is a huge problem: about 60,000 Americans are on ventilators at any given time, and it costs billions of dollars to care for them,” Eblen writes. “The longer most people are on a ventilator, the more likely they are to die.” And “muscle weakness is the main culprit in about 70 percent of ventilator patients.” Other researchers are investigating why lifting weights can improve memory in the elderly, why certain patients lose muscle strength soon after being hospitalized, how injuries caused by repetitive motion can be avoided, and exactly how massage and ice help repair and strengthen muscles.
Eblen, who took up bicycling at 35 to lose weight and is still an enthusiast in his mid-50s, is writing a lot lately about exercise in response to Lexington’s designation by Men’s Health magazine as the nation’s most sedentary city. And the center’s Esther Dupont-Versteegden is even researching inactivity: “We know that people feel better when they exercise regularly, but why is that?” she asked. “What is inactivity doing to people?” (Read more)
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