I think we all know that exercise is good for you; it improves cardiac health, weight control, improved muscle tone, coordination, and balance. Exercise is a great stress reliever, improves bone density, etc. However, one of the most important aspects of exercise is rarely, if ever, mentioned- trash removal. It has long been known that cells accumulate waste products from the wear and tear of everyday living. Cells contain mitochondria, which are like little energy factories, and like factories, they put out their own smoke, or waste. In addition, viruses or bacteria, broken or misshaped proteins, and broken-down cell membranes for a kind of garbage dump inside the body. When our bodies are young and healthy, cells are extremely efficient at sweeping away this junk, even recycling some of it for use as fuel-going green as they say. This process is called autophagy, or “self-eating.” ¬†Without this system of trash removal, cells become choked with trash and begin to die off. Unchecked, researchers believe it can lead to disease states such as diabetes, muscular dystrophy, Alzheimer’s, and cancer. The slowing of autophagy as we get older is considered a factor in aging. New research, published last month in Nature, looked at this cellular housecleaning chore by taking two groups of mice, one set with a normal cleaning system, and the other bred to have a blunted system. They had the mice run. After just 30 minutes, the normal mice had significantly more autophagy activity-the other group had no increase. More striking, however, was when Dr. Beth Levine of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas, stuffed both groups with a high-fat kibble for several weeks until they developed a rodent version of diabetes. The normal mice subsequently reversed the diabetes by running; the autophagy-resistant animals did not. Bottom line: An increase in autophagy, prompted by exercise, seems to be a critical step in achieving the health benefits of exercise. Another reason to get out there and be active. For a more in-depth review of this study, check out the article by Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times (2/01/2012).

I had another hike with my son yesterday, up what is called Shaw Butte, in north-central Phoenix. This time, we took along one of his friends, and I took my dog “Jake” for his first hike. Thank heaven I had Jake. The first quarter-mile or so was very steep, and Jake helped pull me up. My son and his friend didn’t need help-they soon left Jake and I in the dust. 14 year-old legs, hearts, and undoubtedly better autophagy were on display. Once I got over the shock of the fact that I am getting older AND slower, I relaxed and enjoyed a great hike and a vigorous workout. The weather was a perfect 70 degrees, and the views of the valley were beautiful.

Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.

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