Of Mice and Exercise

Photo courtesy of Jason Cartwright

Warning: this post contains dangerously low levels of Italian soccer players, flat stomach links, skanky fitness or cupcake flowcharts. It is a serious, mature post about health and research studies and that sort of grown up stuff.

Well, it's as close as I get to serious and grown up, anyway.

I've noticed people tend to dismiss studies that don't agree with their own personal philosophy. (In this case, "people" includes the blogger I see in the mirror each morning.) Up to a point, I'm cool with saying "Hey, I don't like this study so I'm going to ignore it." But even if I don't like the results, I tend to believe studies that are a) well-designed b) clearly described and c) have very impressive numbers. Like this one study I read that showed a dramatic change in the health of the subjects.

These guys took a bunch of mice, got them to work out every day, then took away their exercise equipment. Then they sat back and watched what happened, which was dramatic.

(Notice how I'm not saying what the results are? This is called being really annoying piquing the reader's interest so that they'll be tempted to slap me upside the head read more.)

Did it work?

Yay! You're still reading. Feel free to slap me then.

Yes, this study was performed on mice, which is to say that Your Mileage May Vary. (One study I read once had the immortal line: "mice are not people." Ooh. Good to know.) All the same, a lot can be learned from studying how mice react to situations.

In this study, I was interested to read that they used fat mice, i.e. mice bred to be obese. The mice were able to keep healthy, 'fit and fat' as it were, through steadily exercising.

One difference between mice and humans is that in the first part of the study, these mice did not have to be forced (nagged, heavily encouraged, guilted, or dragged kicking and screaming) to exercise. They did it anyway. (Probably because their cages didn't have cable.) To stop them from exercising, the researchers had to fix the exercise wheel so that it wouldn't move.

The results

Finally! Sheesh, Merry...

For a week after they stopped exercising, the mice stayed healthy. But then their health went downhill faster than a slalom racer who just remembered he left the stove on back home and has to go turn it off before the house burns down.

The researchers were surprised at how quickly signs of fatty liver started to happen to these poor mice. [Ceasing to exercise] "activates a subgroup of precursors and processes known to initiate hepatic steatosis, including decreased hepatic mitochondrial oxidative capacity, increased hepatic expression of de novo lipogenesis proteins, and increased hepatic malonyl CoA levels; each probably increasing the susceptibility to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. "

And they were even more astonished at the night-and-day difference between the mice who exercised and the ones who did not. To quote one white-coated guy (more formally known as professor Frank Booth, a cardiovascular researcher) "Physical activity prevented fatty liver disease by 100 percent in an animal model of fatty liver disease.... In contrast, 100 percent of the group that did not have physical activity had fatty liver disease. This is a remarkable event. It is rare in medicine for any treatment to prevent any disease by 100 percent."


I mean, unless a research study is based on one lone person mouse, this is an impressive statistic. Really. Also impressive that the results start to go downhill after one friggin' week.

Oh, I can't help it. I can't stand the nagging feeling that this post needs a chart. Okay, I will include one chart, but a very mature and adult one.

Everybody has days when they say @!$# and slack off. I think the key here is not to give up whole weeks to slacktitude. And be glad you're not a mouse!

And yes, I suppose I should include one photo of Enrique...

Okay, so Enrique might not be his real name...

What do you think? Am I crazy to get so enthused about one study? There are others that suggest similar conclusions, but this is the only study I've come across that is so 100% cut-and-dried in its conclusion that everybody needs to get out there and exercise. Or else.

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