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Every Month: a Review of Major Teaching Points

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A Power Program for Student Review

Course Coverage 2015

  • Jan Fit To Last
  • Feb Visceral Obesity
  • Mar Modern Malnutrition
  • April Metabolic Syndrome
  • May Prevalent Predicaments
  • June Sugar Diabetes
  • July Diabetes Complications
  • Aug Cholesterol, Atheroma
  • Sept Aging Brain & Body
  • Oct Cancer Considerations
  • Nov Feeling Liverish
  • Dec Energetic Longevity
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The developed world is suffering a major epidemic of self-inflicted wounds. They came to the clinic in the middle of the last century as heart attacks. Jogging was a popular reaction, while ‘cholesterol’ and ‘coronary’ became household words. Now we must add ‘visceral obesity’ (an apple-shape) and its complicating effects on metabolism, to the epidemic. Last month we took a long look at fitness.

Reaching for a keyboard or a cookie is more complicated than most of us think…mechanically, neurologically and metabolically. Motor nerves are firing continuously while being modified throughout the arm’s action for a smooth outreach motion and return. It relies on stored muscle energy, fast neurone shortcuts and multiple sensory feedback checkpoints. And it all happens reflexly, without any conscious brain control, once the ‘reach’ order is given.

Dedicated training can condition muscle sets into coordinated, skilled and sustained performances, in Olympic parlance: faster, stronger, higher. All these skilled activities happen at a visible level of scientific understanding. Physical activity means that muscle fibers are contracting. They shorten and bulk up, pull their bone attachments around joints, and move limb or body part, employing stored muscle energy.

Muscle energy comes initially from sugar stored in muscle cells and later from circulating fatty acids released in response from fat stores. Today’s research, goes much deeper, deep into the cell, its juices or sap, and its controlling nerve center or nucleus. It focuses our attention on the invisible or micro level of muscle cell chemistry from exercise for fitness.

All muscle cell activities require oxygen. This generates carbon dioxide, water and waste. A circulation is necessary (heart, arteries, veins and lungs) to satisfy muscle needs and to remove the waste of its exertions. Several muscle disorders and a few common cerebral dementias result from the clutter of metabolic activity…cellular junk accumulating and choking cellular machinery. It involves a process called autophagy.

Pronounced ‘otto-fa-jee’, it literally means, self-digestion, a name that was assigned before the true nature of the process was understood. Autophagy is cell housecleaning of the clutter accumulating from each day’s work. It takes place regularly in all tissues of the body, not just muscle, and usually at the end of the work day, so mostly at night. But it can take place any time in muscle if its energy levels dip and there’s a need to refuel.

Autophagy is an elegant process. When cell energy levels fall, autophagy’s chemical conductor rises from the cell juice to tap on the wall of the nucleus (home of cell genes and cell controls). On signal, the nucleus activates dozens of its contained genes to produce a flow of identical protein molecules called Ubiquitins, all intent on getting out of the nucleus and into the cluttered juice of the fuel-starved cell.

Like synchronized ice skaters, ubiquitins separate into two teams to perform two chores out in the cell juice. One team positions itself around the cell’s interior walls, linking arms to form a collecting net. The second team huddles to form a tiny recycling center (called a lysosome) that waits in readiness to process everything gathered up by the first team. Thus does autophagy capture loose molecules in the cell juice for energy…like sugars, fatty acids and amino acids.

In its sweep from the cell walls, the net team gathers up any production errors or broken bits of cell machinery. They dump their sweep into the arms of the lysosome team for finding energy, salvaging what can be re-used and burning up everything else. It’s a daily cleansing that provides a cell with fresh energy and machinery repair. Worksite clutter is eliminated, mostly as carbon dioxide and water. They migrate harmlessly into the circulation to be lost through the lungs or kidneys.

The body benefits of exercise are old news, but the brain benefits are increasingly appreciated through scanning. In the first place, thinking is sharpened in New Brain (the cerebral cortex) by the wash of circulating catecholamines: hormones of fight/flight shaken loose by working muscles. Secondly, feelings are improved deep down in Old Brain by the release of a neurotransmitter, called dopamine. It lifts the mood and instills confidence. We’re talking a survival legacy from early hunter-gatherer roots.

So exercise awakens genes that houseclean and refresh tissue cells, and not just muscle cells. New research shows that exercise directly effects fat cells, called adipocytes, making them prone to release their stored fatty acids. Ten healthy men were evaluated after 3 months of aerobic exercise… an hour a day, 5 days a week. Researchers found a metabolic effect on the genes of the cells in their fat stores. They had been activated, as shown by an improved uptake of glucose, and by mitigation of the blood cholesterol effects of a dirty diet. The Take away? Aerobic exercise will even help shape up bulging fat stores.

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