Exercise comes from daily activities in life. See how to use it or lose it! | The Old Farmer's Almanac

"Use It or Lose It" for Your Health

Wood pile next to trees
Photo Credit
Mare-Anne Jarvela

It's not just a marketing slogan.

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“Use it or lose it” isn’t just a marketing slogan. It’s how our bodies work. And using our muscles more often is tied to better mental and emotional health. Have you noticed this? What’s amazing is that a lot of activities we do in everyday life help us in so many other ways!

Why Muscles are “Use or Lose”

Use it or lose it is how our muscles work. It’s a deep law of evolutionary biology. When you do not use your muscles, you send a message that they are not important and your body quits supporting your muscles with energy which causes them to decline.

Specifically, our skeletal muscles—the ones attached to bones that enable various kinds of movement—need regular maintenance. Our bodies simply don’t maintain muscle fibers we don’t use regularly, or create new ones unless we demand them to by increasing our physical efforts.

What is the strongest muscle in our body? Nope, not the legs. The heart! Our heart as well as our lungs, brains and nervous systems, bones, blood vessels and other tissues all depend on the work of these muscles for their own vitality. 

It’s All Related: Body, Brain, Heart

Increasingly, science reveals that exercise—using our muscles often—helps maintain emotional stability and mental acuity.

Exercisers have less chronic disease and fewer infections. Exercise also helps hold various forms of age-related decline at bay.

During the fifty years between our 20s and 70s, nearly 40% of this mass and strength are lost, unless we actively work to slow or prevent this process. Fortunately, it is never too late to begin strengthening your muscles to keep yourself safe, healthy, and happy.

Getting Physical Saves Money

Early in adult life, I unexpectedly found myself living in a rural New Hampshire community without any job prospects. The house had no central heat and no modern conveniences, and I was in no position to afford them.

For an income, I set up a whole-grain bakery in my kitchen, delivering up to 400 loaves of handmade bread each week to Boston and a few New Hampshire stores. I learned to split wood and manage woodstoves, tend a large vegetable garden, and preserve food for the winter. I shoveled snow by hand, hung my laundry, and washed dishes by hand. The years I did have a regular job outside the home, I commuted by bicycle whenever possible.

Yes, my initial reasons for daily physical labor had as much to do with the philosophy, “Use it or lose it” as it did with financial necessity. However, today, I recognize that hiring other people to do my own work not only saves me money, but saves my health.

How Physical Tasks Form Virtuous Cycles

Stack the wood, spread the ashes, hoe the garden, haul mulch, turn the compost. Climb stairs, take on housework, walk or bike instead of driving whenever you can.

I don’t always embrace physical tasks enthusiastically, but I take them on willingly. They form virtuous cycles that seem magical:

  • The wood we burn not only produces heat, but cooks our food and dries our laundry during the winter.
  • The wood ashes help sweeten the soil that grows the abundant vegetables and fruits that keep us healthy.
  • The kitchen, yard and garden leftovers become compost that help keep our food plants healthy.
  • The laundry drying on indoor racks during winter humidifies the dry winter air.

At some point, we may have to abandon the work of wood heating and install gas appliances. I’ve already started shrinking the vegetable garden a bit (e.g., 40 tomato plants instead of 70; 50 cabbages instead of 100).

But then again, I’m still baking and gardening and would love to rig my bicycle to grind wheat berries into flour and to pump water into the lower gardens! 

Doing daily work isn’t, of course, the only way to “use it or lose it.” See my post, “Go Ahead: Add a Little Weight.”

About The Author

Margaret Boyles

Margaret Boyles is a longtime contributor to The Old Farmer’s Almanac. She wrote for UNH Cooperative Extension, managed NH Outside, and contributes to various media covering environmental and human health issues. Read More from Margaret Boyles

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