Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Phys Ed: If You Are Fit, You Can Take It Easy - NYTimes.com

New Year’s resolutions tend to war with wintertime malaise. Resolution urges you to work out. Malaise suggests that you linger in bed. But there’s good news for those of us torn between these impulses. A number of newly published studies offer compelling reasons to get out and exercise on the one hand, as well as new estimates of just how little we can do and still benefit on the other.

The most sobering of the recent studies, published last month in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, looked at a large group of retired elite male athletes, most now in their 50s. Some had remained physically active, although they were no longer competing. Others had taken fully to sloth, avoiding almost all exercise. When the researchers examined the health profiles of the two groups, they found, to no one’s surprise, that the sedentary ex-athletes had a much higher risk of metabolic abnormalities, including insulin resistance, than their more active counterparts. Training hard and often in their youth had not conferred lifelong health benefits on the athletes as they aged, not if they now sat around all day.

Similarly, although in a more compressed time frame, a study published earlier this year found that when a group of world-class kayakers completely quit training (at the end of a competitive season), they rapidly lost strength and endurance. After only five weeks of not training, according to one measure of strength, they’d sloughed off about 9 percent of their muscular power and 11 percent of their aerobic capacity.

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