May 28, 2009

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.


  1. A very timely post! I was supposed to go back to gym yesterday after a week off sick, but I slacked off. Now I'm definitely going today! No more slacking!

  2. Wowser, that's some impressive statistic. As well as a pretty awesome motivator to get on my exercise wheel and get a runnin.

  3. I love it that it's THAT simple, cut and dried....great post! I know from being bed ridden for 2 weeks just gone that my body has changed yet again from not being able to indulge my 5 times a week gym habit. *sigh* back to it I guess.....

  4. I'm more enthused about Enrique, but he really needs to put on a different pairs of panties...I mean, swim shorts.

  5. Conclusion.

    As a friend of mine once said -- "We were built to move."

  6. It's hard to ignore studies that make sense (although, like Merry, I try if they're not something I want to hear :)). Even if this one is on mice, it's so dramatic. Definitely one to keep in mind.

  7. That's a really motivating study!

    I know that when I've been on the road or have for some other reason skipped a couple aerobic workouts, 1 week seems to be the psychological breaking point. I feel like if it's going on a week, I MUST do something huffy-puffy, no matter where I am or how complicated the logistics are. How convenient that it's the same point my liver is thinking the same thing!

  8. Okay, it's clear that exercise is beneficial. But how many times a week did the mice exercise? Did they do mouse strength training or mouse yoga, or did the mice just do cardio? Were they given anything to help reduce the inflammation associated with tons and tons of cardio?

    While that study may be great at providing motivation to hit the gym, it really doesn't give the how.

  9. It's high time in this age of obesity that we get conscious and start exercising.

  10. The links give a bit more detail. Apparently the mice only did cardio exercise -- or at least there's no mention of pilates or kettlebells.

    I'd love to find something besides vitamin I that helps with the inflammation caused by cardio!

  11. Great information Merry. I'll pass this blog post on to all the rodents I meet up with today. I always knew there were some rats in the warehouse. Those that don't exercise are doomed.

  12. Wait, I am still on the Enrique pic! Hey. Josie, I am OK with his outfit. They put the gals in almost nothing!!! :-)

    I suppose I should comment on the post too... clear the head.. OK! I like that study! I agree, planned time off is good or a day here & there when the bod just says not BUT don't give up! I have also read studies that say people that stop working out even after 2 weeks start to go to the "mice"! Sucks that it is so hard to get fit & it dissipates so quickly! That is why even on vacation, I tone it down but I still do something. The last time I took a week off was when that dog bit me last year & I had no choice.. well, I snuck in abs.

    All I can say is I am gonna stick with it & I dread the day that something forces me to take too much time off. Hopefully that will not happen anytime soon!

    Also, when I don't work out, the bod sort of "backs up". I know, TMI!

    OK, back to Enrique!

  13. I have a few comments on this:

    Like you, Merry, I am fascinated by the fact that mice are driven to exercise! I read that they will run 5 miles a day! What drives that is what we need to find.

    I am saddened that we as humans, seem to feel no remorse that we distort animals for research :-(

  14. I'm with Dr J.... we need to find out what drives the mice to happily run so much!!

  15. "Your mileage may vary" and "Probably because their cages didn't have cable" - laughing so hard I almost fell out of my Barco-lounger.

    I agree to pay attention to this study as it makes so much sense even without injecting science into it. By the way, were any cats involved in motivating the test mice?

  16. It's really amazing how mice in the lab (and my pet mice I've had at home) will run for hours and hours on the wheels and play with the toys they are given all the time - they are very active and social. you're right -I think we can really take something from this...
    Seeing obesity in autopsies and animals was what gave me more of a kick to be fitter than I was - the fat really does deposit everywhere, not just in a nice layer about your stomach (OK and for me my butt) - and it's strange but you'd think we'd realise that we are built to move. And jsut move more. How we became so sedentary is confusing to me - we use our minds to exhaustion, but our bodies take the back burner.

    I can say that after 2 weeks holiday of doing no workouts (except for lots of walking) I have become jiggly and it's hard to get back into workouts at the level I was.
    Cute mice - they can teach us a lot...

    "Probably because their cages didn't have cable" made ma laugh outloud...:)

  17. Just a response to an earlier comment -I have to say as a researcher - we *do* feel remorse at having to use animals in research. A great deal of it... Where I work, studies are only done when it is necessary to prove something in a living animal model. If there is any other way to do it we do it that way.

  18. Geosomin - thanks for your comment about using animals in research. I think it's sad that we humans treat animals as test subjects and I'm glad to know that you try to avoid it when you can.

    As for the study - I find it interesting. I definitely feel better when I'm exercising regularly and I think that is what motivates me to keep it up more than anything else. The idea that we can deteriorate so quickly if we stop exercising is scary, but believable.

  19. Geosomin, thanks for letting us know what goes on in the lab. Next time you need to publish a study, please remember Cranky Fitness! (In addition to those peer-reviewed journals. I mean, do /they/ have pictures of Enrique? I think not.)

  20. I hate to hear it (and would prefer to ignore it) but I know it's true. I've been totally slacking off lately and it shows. And why is it that you have to work for so long to get good results, but slacking is a near instantaneous slide?!?! How frustrating...

  21. I can totally believe every word of this study. Great timing, too, as I have just upgraded my exercise routine from "when I'm bored" to every day (cept I'm thinking about taking the weekends off and simply taking my dogs on long walks)and my body is mad at me. But now I have more motivation to stick to it!

  22. Hmmm. Do we still REALLY need studies like this one? Is it any surprise at all that they might come to this kind of conclusion? Have we learned nothing from others? The Jack Lalannes? For gods sake...exercise does this? Who would have thought? I know from my own life what it does and from those of my clients too. Sig Klein from over 70 years ago. Paul Bragg...guys who have walked the walk and shown everyone what's possible.Over and over we have seen the benefits but we need a study to confirm it for us? IF anyone is doubtful then the best way to know is to do it for several years. Resistance exercise, cardiovascular, stamina, flexibility/mobility. Learn to breathe, eat a normal, balanced diet---- train and strengthen them all. Then in your heart of hearts will you really know.

  23. I thought it was interesting to see how narrow a window of slackness there was before not-exercising had an effect on health. Also, that 100% bit still impresses me. I read (okay skim) a lot of studies, but that's not a number I see used.

  24. Without reading the research myself, the science skeptic in me has a hard time with any words like "proven" or "100%" or anything else of that nature. If it looks too good to be true, it usually is. (at least that's what I was teaching about today! lol).

  25. I agree with Yum Yucky in that I'm more enthused about Enrique, but why change the shorts? lol

  26. If you want to read more about the study, you can click on the links in the post.

    Hey Crabby, I think we should do a "Best Models of Cranky Fitness" calendar :)

  27. I love things that remind me that there are lots of good reasons to exercise that have nothing to do with "bikini season"! Go little mice!

  28. Okay Okay you've convinced me even though I was in the hospital the last two days, I'm going to the gym as soon as possible.

  29. Yikes! Moonlight D, go easy on that exercise wheel! Maybe find a nice heated pool and do some gentle exercise there... with Enrique ready to assist...

    Oh, sorry, drifted off there for a moment.

    Charlotte, I felt sorry for the mice, but at least they got to frolic and play and exercise. Without stressing about swimsuits, yes, good point :)

  30. Yay for clear and decisive research that you can’t argue with…at least not if you are a mouse.

  31. I luxuriate in Cranky Fitness acutely. I perceive it's astuteness interlinked with witticism a diurnal assistance in my ponderous physique and weight-reducing intent.

    (Is it just me, or did that study's vocabulary exercise the brain? ...and Enrique exercises the eyes).

  32. Since I really (no, really) enjoy your posts on health, nutrition and fitness research studies (but can I request more studies on the benefits of cupcakes?), I thought I'd pass on this site I found today that has a bunch of math and stats-y folks looking deeper into the "numbers in the news"

  33. Great study, had a good laugh. Thanks! I was picturing mice in tight gym gear pushing weights. How cute! Then I saw Enrique and now I am picturing him in tight gym gear.

  34. We all dream we will be regular with the gym and with the slightest of excuse we shoo away...thanks for reminding.

  35. Gym needs a lot of drive really...and regularity is the key to a successful fit and healthy body...thanks for reminding here.


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