Every week, we’re bringing you a roundup of the latest health and wellness news to hit the wire. This week, we look at the ways muscle memory can help keep you fit while you can’t hit the gym, as well as strategies for making healthier choices at home.
Good news: Your muscles remember how fit you once were
While you’re sheltering in place, know this: The training your muscles received in the past appears to help them develop a molecular memory of working out that could speed the process of regaining your muscular strength and size once you’re back at it, according to The New York Times.
In other words, even if you are having a hard time remembering what strong feels like after weeks away from your fitness routine, your muscles still do.
Muscle memory has been well-documented with regard to physical skills such as riding a bike, skiing or making a free throw. But it was less clear whether memories of past exercise reside in the muscles themselves, affecting how well we respond to future workouts.
A recent study of sedentary older men that completed 12 weeks of weight training, gaining muscle strength and size, found that even after laying off their workouts for 12 subsequent weeks, they were all able to regain their previous shape within eight weeks.
But how previous exercise primes our muscles was not clear. To find out how this works, researchers recruited 19 young men and women who had never played sports or formally exercised at all. They checked muscle size and strength and then had them start training a single leg, with exercises such as leg presses and extensions, for 10 weeks. Then they stopped completely for 20 weeks.
After this layoff, they returned to the lab to check muscle size and take muscle biopsies before having them do a strenuous leg workout, using both legs this time. Afterward, they biopsied the muscles in both legs again, checking gene markers and biochemical signals within the participants’ muscle cells that are believed to be related to muscle health and growth.
They found significant differences between the leg that had worked out and the sedentary leg. The previously trained leg had retained 50 percent of its strength gains during the five months without exercise. And the trained leg’s genetic activity suggested that the muscle cells had become genetically and metabolically more ready to strengthen and grow than the cells in the leg that had not been trained.
Avoiding stress eating
If anxiety has you seeking comfort in not-so-healthy food while sheltering at home, The Washington Post has some advice for keeping this stress eating in check.
Eating highly processed foods and snacks with sugar can cause bodily inflammation that increases fatigue, anxiety and depression, says physician Eva Selhub, M.D., who specializes in stress, resilience and mind-body medicine. Keeping these in check and eating an array of fresh colorful produce is important to help keep a brighter mood.
If fresh produce and meat are limited in your area, turn to frozen fruits and veggies, says Deanna Minich, Ph.D., a nutritionist with the American Nutrition Association. They are closer to their original state and not soaking in a high-salt or sugar solution like most canned food.
It’s also worth noting, Selhub says, that while food makes us feel better by releasing serotonin and dopamine in our brains, the effect wears off quickly. To curb emotional eating, she suggests checking in before taking a bite and asking, “Am I about to eat because I’m physically hungry or because I feel stressed and sad?” If the answer is the latter, consider turning to other sources of comfort such as meditation, movement, social interaction, hobbies or just a quick walk outside.
And make sure to stick to your regular routine of eating two to three meals a day, Selhub says, even if your routine has changed.
It’s also a perfect time to find an online support group for healthy eating that you can lean on when you’re having a hard time.
Photo credit: Eva-Katalin, Getty Images