Posts Tagged ‘use it or lose it’

An Erection Is A Symphony, With An Orchestra And Conductor

October 10, 2015

Andrew Siegel MD    October 10, 2015

Gaga_Symphony_Orchestra

(Gaga Symphony Orchestra live at Palazzo Zuckermann, Padua, Italy; photo taken by Carlo Alberto Cazzuffi, September 2012; Permission to copy and distribute under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License)

Achieving a rigid erection is a “symphony” that results from the interplay of four “orchestral sections,” nerves, blood vessels, erectile smooth muscle, and erectile skeletal muscle (pelvic floor muscles). The orchestral sections are led by the “conductor,” the brain (the main sex organ). Although each individual “musician” within the orchestral sections has a unique role, all work together in harmony to create a beautiful “symphony.” If any musician or orchestral section is off key, the disharmony can cause the “symphony” to be flawed resulting in a sub-par performance.

Sections of the Orchestra

Nerves: You can think of the nerves as the string instruments—the violin, viola, cello and double bass—vibrating in sync. This is arguably one of the most important sections, providing more than half of the musicians.

The penis has a rich supply of nerves that connect with the spinal cord and brain. Without these nerves and connections, the penis would be numb, cut off from the rest of the body and incapable of being stimulated with either touch or erotic stimulation.

Here is how things work when nerves are functioning well:

  • When the penis is stimulated by touch, nerves relay this information to spinal cord centers, which then relay the message to the penile arteries to increase blood flow, resulting in the penis becoming engorged.
  • Touch to the penis is also conveyed directly to the brain, enhancing this reflex spinal cord response.
  • Erotic stimulation (visual cues, sounds, smells, touch, thoughts, memories, etc.) further stimulates the penis from excitatory nerve pathways that descend from the brain.
  • With touch stimulation of the head of the penis, a reflex contraction of the pelvic floor muscles causes even more blood to be pushed into the penis, leading to a rigid erection.

Blood vessels: You can think of the blood vessels as the percussion instruments—the piano, xylophone, cymbals, drums, etc.—pulsing rhythmically. Kettledrums or timpani bring a level of excitement to the music. 

Inflation of the penis is all about blood inflow and trapping. When there are issues with blood flow or blood trapping, it becomes very difficult to obtain and/or maintain an erection.

Here is how things work when the blood vessels are functioning well:

  • With touch or erotic stimulation, nerves (as discussed above) cause the muscle within the walls of the penile arteries to relax, which increases penile blood flow.
  • Muscle relaxation within the small arteries of the sinuses of the penile erectile chambers increases blood flow, resulting in penile engorgement.

Erectile smooth muscle: You can think of the erectile smooth muscle as the woodwind instruments—the piccolos, flutes, oboes, clarinets and bassoons—ranging from the highest tones in the orchestra to the lowest, analogous to the great range of smooth muscle contractility within the erectile chambers.

The erectile smooth muscle within the sinuses of the erectile chambers governs the inflation/deflation status of the penis. When the smooth muscle is contracted (squeezed), the penis cannot inflate with blood, but when the muscle relaxes, blood gushes into the sinuses and inflates the penis. Issues with the erectile smooth muscle make it difficult to obtain or maintain an erection.

As we age, smooth muscle in all arteries of the body stiffens, causing high blood pressure; paralleling this, there is an age-related stiffness of the erectile smooth muscle, which causes erectile dysfunction.

Here is how things work when the erectile smooth muscle is functioning well:

  • With touch or erotic stimulation, the smooth muscle within the sinuses of the erectile chambers relaxes, under control of the nerves, which allows blood to flow into and fill the sinuses.
  • As the sinuses approach complete filling, veins that drain them are pinched, trapping blood within the sinuses.
  • This smooth muscle relaxation results in penile blood pressure becoming equal with the overall systolic blood pressure (normally 120 millimeters) and an engorged penis, plump but not rigid.

Erectile skeletal muscles (pelvic floor muscles): You can think of the erectile skeletal muscles as the brass instruments—the trumpets, French horns, trombones, and tubas, made of brass and capable of the loudest sounds in the orchestra. These instruments are particularly important in the loudest, most exciting portions of the music, corresponding to the role of the pelvic floor muscles as one approaches climax, maintaining rigidity and driving ejaculation.

The pelvic floor muscles are the rigidity muscles, necessary for transforming the plump penis to a rock-hard penis. These “rigidity” muscles surround the deep roots of the penis. When these muscles are not functioning optimally, one loses the potential for full rigidity.

Half of the penis is hidden and internal and is known as the penile roots. Like the roots of a tree responsible for  foundational support, the roots of the penis stabilize and support the erect penis so that it stays rigid and skyward-angling with excellent “posture.” When erect, it is these muscles that are responsible for the ability to lift one’s penis up and down as the muscles are contracted and relaxed. These rigidity muscles compress the roots of the penis, causing backflow of pressurized blood into the penis; additionally they are responsible for ejaculation—compressing the urethra (urinary channel that runs through the penis) rhythmically at the time of climax to cause the expulsion of semen.

An erection–defined in mechanical (hydraulic) terms– is when the penile blood inflow is maximized while outflow is minimized, resulting in an inflated and rigid penis. The pressure in the penis at the time of an erection is sky-high (greater than 200 millimeters), the only organ in the male body where high blood pressure is both acceptable and necessary for healthy function. If the systemic blood pressure were this high, it would be considered a “hypertensive crisis.” This explains why blood pressure pills are the most common medications associated with erectile dysfunction.

Unlike humans, many mammals have a bone called the os penis to permit penile rigidity. In the absence of this handy set up, nature has cleverly engineered a better alternative…after all, who wants an erection 24-7-365? A convenient and readily available fluid—blood—is used as a liquid medium and pressurized tremendously to achieve an erection. Brilliant!

Here is how things work when the pelvic floor muscles are functioning well:

  • With touch stimulation of the head of the penis, there is a reflex contraction of the pelvic floor muscles; every time the head of the penis is stimulated, the pelvic floor muscles contract.
  • The pelvic floor muscles surround the roots of the penis and as they compress and squeeze the roots with each contraction, blood within the roots is forced back into the external penis, thereby pushing more blood into the penis and causing more clamping of venous outflow—a tourniquet-like effect—that results in penile high blood pressure and full-fledged rigidity—a brass-hard penis.

Brain: You can think of the brain as the conductor of the orchestra—the maestro—who has the vital role of unifying and coordinating the individual performers, setting the tempo, executing meter, “listening” critically and shaping the sound of the ensemble accordingly. The conductor is the key player and if he is having an off day and does not bring his “A” game, there will be disharmony in the orchestra and the symphony will be flat and unimpressive.

Psychological and emotional status has a significant impact on erectile function. Mood, stress levels, interpersonal and relationship issues, etc.—acting via the mind-body connection and mediated via the release of neurochemicals—can influence erectile function for better or worse. Stress, for example, induces the adrenal glands to release a surge of adrenaline. Adrenaline constricts blood vessels, which has a negative effect on erections, the basis for the common occurrence of adrenaline-fueled performance anxiety.

The Fix

Now that we have looked at the sections of the orchestra and have deconstructed the erectile process, let us use this schema as a means of treating the specific part of the process that may have gone awry.

Nerves: Since intact and functioning nerves are fundamental to the erectile process, stimulation of the nerves can be an effective means of resurrecting erectile function. Penile vibratory stimulation induces the reflex between the penis and the spinal cord that results in gradual filling of the penis with arterial blood. It contributes to erectile rigidity via inducing reflex contractions of the pelvic floor muscles when the vibrations are applied to the head of the penis. By enhancing this reflex and triggering nerve activity in the brain, spinal cord and peripheral nerves, vibratory stimulation is capable of inducing an erection and ejaculation.

Blood Vessels: Clogged arteries caused by fatty plaques, often a consequence of an unhealthy lifestyle, can compromise the blood supply to the penis. Lifestyle “remake” consists of common-sense measures to improve all aspects of health in general and blood vessel health in particular. This means getting down to “fighting” weight, adopting a heart-healthy (and penis-healthy) diet, exercising regularly, drinking alcohol moderately, avoiding tobacco, minimizing stress, getting enough sleep, etc. The oral ED medicationsViagra, Levitra, Cialis and Stendra—can be helpful when there is compromised blood flow to the penis. They work by inhibiting the chemical that causes erections to dissipate.

Erectile Smooth Muscle: Age-related dysfunction of erectile smooth muscle is a difficult issue to manage. However, lifestyle measures can be helpful as well as adopting a “use it or lose it” attitude towards sexual function—exercising the penis via regular sexual activity will actually help the health of the smooth muscle of the penile arteries and sinuses.

Erectile Skeletal Muscle: Pelvic floor muscle training will improve the strength, tone and endurance of the pelvic floor muscles and will optimize the rigidity function.

Brain: Finding a solution for the psychological and emotional issues that adversely affect sexual function would merit winning the Nobel Prize! Lifestyle measures are vital for optimal brain function. Getting sufficient sleep is particularly important. Stress management is essential as stress is one of the main erection killers. Finding balance in life is key. When in a sexual situation, being “in the moment” as opposed to “spectatoring”—observing your performance as if you are a third party—is fundamental for optimal functioning.

Bottom Line: An erection is a highly complex symphony, orchestrated by the main sex organ—the brain—and executed at the level of the penis via the individual performances of the orchestral members who comprise the orchestral sections—the nerves, blood vessels, erectile smooth muscle and the pelvic floor muscles. All orchestral members play a vital role in the creation of a magical synergy, resulting in a spirited, powerful, passionate performance that climaxes in a tension-releasing symphonic finale.

Wishing you the best of health,

2014-04-23 20:16:29

http://www.AndrewSiegelMD.com

A new blog is posted every week. To receive the blogs in the in box of your email go to the following link and click on “email subscription”: www.HealthDoc13.WordPress.com

Author of Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health: available in e-book (Amazon Kindle, Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble Nook, Kobo) and paperback: www.MalePelvicFitness.com. In the works is The Kegel Fix: Recharging Female Pelvic, Sexual and Urinary Health.

Co-creator of Private Gym, a comprehensive, interactive, FDA-registered follow-along male pelvic floor muscle training program. Built upon the foundational work of Dr. Arnold Kegel, Private Gym empowers men to increase pelvic floor muscle strength, tone, power, and endurance: www.PrivateGym.com or Amazon.

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10 Myths About Kegel Exercises: What You Need to Know

November 14, 2014

Andrew Siegel, M.D.

 

shutterstock_orange gu tract closeup

 

shutterstock_femalebluepelvic

 

Myth: Kegels are just for the ladies.

Truth: Au contraire…men have essentially the same pelvic floor muscles as do women and can derive similar benefits to sexual, urinary, and bowel health.

 

Myth: The best way to do Kegels is to stop the flow of urine.

Truth: If you can stop your stream, it is indeed proof that you are contracting the proper set of muscles. However, this is just a means of feedback to reinforce that you are employing the right muscles, but the bathroom should not be your Kegel muscle gymnasium.

 

Myth: You should do Kegel exercises as often as possible.

Truth: Pelvic floor muscle exercises strengthen and tone the pelvic floor muscles and like other muscle-strengthening routines, should not be performed every day. Pelvic exercises should be done in accordance with an intelligently designed plan of progressively more difficult and challenging exercises that require rest periods in order for optimal muscle growth and response.

 

Myth: You can and should do Kegels anywhere (while stopped in your car at a red light, waiting in line at the check out, while watching television, etc.)

Truth: Exercises of the pelvic floor muscles, like any other form of exercise, demand gravitas, focus, and isolation of the muscle group at hand. Until you are able to master the exercise regimen, it is best that the exercises be performed in an appropriate venue, free of distraction, which allows single-minded focus and concentration. This is not to say that once you achieve mastery of the exercises and a fit pelvic floor that you cannot integrate the exercises into the activities of daily living.

 

Myth: Holding the pelvic floor muscles tight all the time is desirable.

Truth: Not a good idea…the pelvic floor muscles have natural tone to them and when you are not actively engaging and exercising them, they should be left to their own natural state. There exists a condition—tension myalgia of the pelvic floor muscles—in which there is spasticity, tightness and pain due to excessive tension of these muscles. Pelvic floor training in this circumstance must be done with caution in order to avoid aggravating the pain, but maximal muscle contraction can induce maximal muscle relaxation, a meditative state between muscle contractions.

 

Myth: Focusing on your core is enough to ensure pelvic floor muscle fitness.

Truth: The pelvic floor muscles do form the floor of the “core” group of muscles and get some workout whenever the core muscles are exercised. However, for maximum benefit, specific focus needs to be made on the pelvic floor muscles. In Pilates and yoga, there is an emphasis on the core group of muscles and a collateral benefit to the pelvic floor muscles, but this is not enough to achieve the full potential fitness of a regimen that focuses exclusively on the pelvic muscles.

 

Myth: Kegel exercises do not help.

Truth: Au contraire…pelvic floor muscles have proven to help a variety of pelvic maladies in each gender. In females, pelvic floor muscle training can help urinary and bowel incontinence, pelvic relaxation, and sexual dysfunction. In males, pelvic floor muscle training can help incontinence (stress incontinence that follows prostate surgery, overactive bladder, and post void dribbling), erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation and other forms of ejaculatory dysfunction as well as help bowel incontinence and tension myalgia of the pelvic floor.

 

Myth: Kegels are only helpful after a problem surfaces.

Truth: No, no, no. As in any exercise regimen, the best option is to be proactive and not reactive in order to maintain muscle mass and strength in order to prevent problems from arising before they have an opportunity to do so. Pelvic floor muscle training done during pregnancy can help prevent pelvic issues from arising in females and pelvic muscle training in males can likewise help prevent the onset of a variety of sexual and urinary maladies. There is no better time than the present to start pelvic exercises to delay or prevent symptoms.

 

Myth: You can stop doing Kegels once your muscles strengthen.

Truth: No, “use it or lose it” applies here as it does in any muscle-training regimen. Muscles adapt positively to the stresses and resistances placed upon them and so they adapt negatively to a lack of stresses and resistances. “Disuse atrophy” is a possibility with all muscles, including the pelvic floor muscles.

 

Myth: It is easy to learn how to isolate and exercise the pelvic floor muscles.

Truth: No, not the case at all. Studies have shown that over 70% of women who think they are doing pelvic floor muscle exercises properly are actually contracting other muscles, typically the rectus, the gluteal muscles, and the adductor muscles of the thigh. One of the greatest challenges is that there have been no well-designed, easy-to-follow pelvic muscle training programs…UNTIL NOW! The Private Gym Company was established after recognizing that there was an unmet need for a means by which a pelvic floor muscle-training program could be made accessible and available in the home setting. This comprehensive, interactive, follow-along exercise program is available on DVD…PrivateGym.com.

 

Myth: Kegels can adversely affect your sex life.

Truth: Absolutely not… In both genders, pelvic floor muscle training has been found to improve sexual function. The pelvic floor muscles play a critical role in both female and male sexuality, supporting clitoral and penile erections as well as ejaculation in males and orgasm in both genders.

 

Wishing you the best of health,

2014-04-23 20:16:29

http://www.AndrewSiegelMD.com

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A new blog is posted every week. To receive the blogs in the in box of your email go to the following link and click on “email subscription”: www.HealthDoc13.WordPress.com

Author of Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health: http://www.MalePelvicFitness.com

Private Gym: http://www.PrivateGym.com – now available on Amazon

Use Your X or Lose It

November 1, 2014

Andrew Siegel, MD

Use X or lose it…X can be anything–you fill in the blank–your muscles, your brain, your bones, your sexual function.

The cells and tissues of our bodies—including muscles, bones, brains, and every other organ—are endowed with a remarkable capacity for “plasticity,” the quality of being able to be shaped and molded in an adaptive response to the environment they are exposed to. What it comes down to is that our human body is an “adaptation machine.”   Our composition is “fluid” as opposed to “static,” and our tissues are constantly being remodeled, restructured and refashioned in adaptive responses that occur in accordance to the forces, stresses, resistances and demands placed upon them. This plasticity is an amazing phenomenon that can be tapped into by purposely challenging our tissues with the appropriate resistances to enable them to perform at extreme high levels of function.

Today’s blog is a discussion of use X or lose it in the context of male sexual function.

Hard Fact: If you go for too long without an erection, smooth muscle and other tissues within the penis may be damaged, resulting in a loss of penile length and girth and negatively affecting your ability to achieve an erection.

Your penis needs to be utilized the way nature intended, just like every other body component…and that means not just to direct your urinary stream with laser-like precision! Your penis is a marvel of engineering, uniquely capable of increasing its blood flow by a factor of 40-50 times over baseline, this surge of blood flow happening within seconds and accomplished by relaxation of the smooth muscle within your penile arteries and erectile tissues. When your penis is erect, not only is rigidity achieved, but the erection also serves to keep your penile muscles and tissues richly oxygenated, elastic and functioning well. The dramatic increase in penile blood flow that occurs with an erection enhances subsequent erectile performance via the release of nitric oxide, one of the important chemical mediators of erections.

In the absence of regular sexual activity, disuse atrophy (wasting away with a decline in anatomy and function) of your penile smooth muscle and erectile tissues can occur. In a vicious cycle, the poor blood flow resulting from lack of use produces a state of poor oxygen levels in the penile tissues, that, in turn, can induce scarring, which can further compound sexual dysfunction.

Scientific studies have found that sexual intercourse on a regular basis protects against ED and that the risk of ED is inversely related to the frequency of intercourse. Men reporting intercourse less than once weekly had a two fold higher incidence of ED as compared to men reporting intercourse once weekly.  (Am J Med 2008 July;121(7): 592-596).

Radical prostatectomy, the surgical removal of the prostate gland for treatment of prostate cancer, can cause penile shortening. The gap in the urethra (because of the removed prostate) is bridged by sewing the bladder neck to the urethral stump, with a consequent loss of length thought to be on the basis of a telescoping phenomenon. Erectile dysfunction associated with damage to the nerves that are responsible for erections further compounds the shortening by causing disuse atrophy and scarring. For this reason, getting back in the saddle as soon as possible after surgery will help “rehabilitate” the penis by preventing disuse atrophy.

A Few Words on Adaptation

Your muscles and other tissues are capable of hypertrophy (growth) or atrophy (shrinkage), depending upon the environment to which they are subject to. Exposure to a stimulating and active “environment” on a long-term basis can positively affect not only your external appearance, but also more importantly, your internal health. Conversely, exposure to a non-stimulating, sedentary environment on a long-term basis can negatively affect your external appearance and internal health.

Every cell, tissue and organ of your body is endowed with a remarkable capacity for “plasticity,” the quality of being able to be shaped and molded in an adaptive response to environmental changes. It deserves repeating that your body and its parts are “fluid” as opposed to “static” and are constantly being remodeled, restructured and refashioned in adaptive responses occurring in accordance to the forces, stresses, resistances and demands placed upon it.

Use It or Lose It

Our bodies demand physical activity in order to function optimally. For example, our bones require weight bearing and biomechanical stresses in order to stay well mineralized and in peak functional condition, as bone mineralization is stimulated by the stresses brought on by a variety of movements. The same holds true for every organ in our body—to maintain maximal functioning they need to be put into the service for which they were designed. As much as our bodies adapt positively to resistance, so they will adapt negatively to a lack of resistance. For example, after wearing a cast on one’s arm for 6 weeks, there is noticeable wasting of the arm muscles, nothing other than disuse atrophy. This phenomenon will occur to any body part not used in the manner for which it was designed.

Beyond Using It

The magic of plasticity and adaptability can be tapped into by challenging your body to adapt to resistances to enable it to perform at extreme levels of function. Exercise is about the adaptation—in neuromuscular, mechanical, and metabolic terms—to the specific demands that are placed on it. As your body is subjected to gradual and progressive “overload,” adaptation occurs and a “new normal” level of fitness is achieved.

Your pelvic floor muscles play an important role during erections, activating and engaging to help maintain penile rigidity and a skyward angling erection. There is good reason that the 1909 Gray’s Anatomy labeled one of the pelvic floor muscles the “erector penis.” Numerous studies have documented the benefits of male Kegel exercises in the management of ED.

Participating in a pelvic floor muscle training program can be a very useful tool to improve ED. It will sharpen your awareness of your pelvic floor muscles and enable you to isolate them and increase their strength, tone, and endurance. As your pelvic floor muscles become more robust, erections will improve accordingly. A comprehensive program such as the Private Gym includes a basic series of progressive male Kegel exercises without resistance followed by the use of resistance equipment to maximize pelvic floor muscle strengthening and performance. The pelvic muscles—like any other muscle in your body—will gradually and progressively adapt to the load placed upon them and will strengthen in accordance with the resistance.

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Elston Howard was a New York Yankee who invented the batting “donut,” a circular lead weight that slides onto baseball bats and is used by on-deck batters. This added weight during practice swings is useful for stretching, enhancing bat speed and strength training; additionally, it makes the bat feel very light once it comes time to step up to the plate and remove the weight. Howard employed the resistance principle to heighten power—use the weighted bat in practice and when it comes time to step up to the plate, you’re going to perform better.

 

batting donut on bat

 

This principle will work on your “bat,” too—utilize resistance training in practice and when it comes time to “step up to the plate,” you’re going to perform better. Resistance training turns conditioning into a weapon that is capable of producing “outstanding” erections, maximizing endurance, and  boosting one’s confidence.

Bottom line: You can lose it, maintain it, or optimize it by not using it, using it, or subjecting it to exercise and resistance training, respectively. You are bestowed with an amazing and magical capacity for plasticity and adaptation, which can be transformative when used to your advantage and benefit.

Wishing you the best of health,

2014-04-23 20:16:29

http://www.AndrewSiegelMD.com

A new blog is posted every week. To receive the blogs in the in box of your email go to the following link and click on “email subscription”: www.HealthDoc13.WordPress.com

Note: As Arnold Kegel popularized pelvic floor muscle exercises in females in the late 1940’s, so I am working towards the goal of popularizing pelvic floor muscle exercises in males. This year I published a review article in the Gold Journal of Urology entitled Pelvic Floor Muscle Training in Men: Practical Applications to disseminate the importance and applications of these exercises to my urology colleagues. I wrote Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health, a book intended to educate the non-medical population. I, along with my partner David Mandell and our superb pelvic floor team, co-created the Private Gym male pelvic floor exercise DVD and resistance program.

For more info on the book: www.MalePelvicFitness.com

For more info on the Private Gym: www.PrivateGym.com

 

Use It Or Lose It: The Wow of Human Plasticity and Adaptation

May 30, 2014

Blog # 156

Think for a momentabout orthodontics. Braces are applied to one’s imperfect teeth and ever so gradual increasing resistance is implemented over time and, presto, in a couple of years, the teeth are perfectly straight and beautiful.

Exposing our bodies to the right “environment” on a long-term basis can positively affect not only our external appearance, but also more importantly, our internal health. Conversely, exposing our bodies to the wrong environment on a long-term basis can negatively affect our external appearance and internal health.

Essentially, the cells and tissues of our bodies—including our muscles, bones, brains, and every other organ—are endowed with a remarkable capacity for “plasticity,” the quality of being able to be shaped and molded in an adaptive response to environmental changes. What it comes down to is that our human body is an adaptation machine.

Our composition is “fluid” as opposed to “static,” and our tissues are constantly being remodeled, restructured and refashioned in adaptive responses occurring in accordance to the forces, stresses, resistances and demands placed upon them. This plasticity is an amazing phenomenon and permits our tissues to maintain normal function when burdened with adverse “resistances.” Conversely, we can tap into this powerful resource by purposely challenging our tissues with the appropriate resistances to enable them to perform at extreme high levels of function.

An example of our bodies’ attempt to maintain normal function when burdened with adverse resistances is benign enlargement of the prostate gland.  Almost inevitably, all aging males experience this gradual growth of this curious gland wrapped around our urethral channels. As a result of this “crimp” on the urethra, the resistance to the flow of urine gradually increases. However, the bladder muscle adapts by hypertrophying (getting more muscular). The bladder ever so slowly changes from a thin and smooth muscle to a thick and rough muscle in order to generate the higher pressures necessary to enable getting the urine out through the impeded urethral passageway. The unsuspecting individual with this condition may experience no symptoms for quite some time because of this natural compensation. However, compensation cannot occur indefinitely as there are natural limits on this plasticity, so one day he may be unable to urinate because the bladder hypertrophy has become maxed out, yet the prostate growth and increased resistance continues relentlessly, resulting in a condition known as acute urinary retention.

Another example of our bodies’ attempt to maintain normal function when burdened with adverse resistances is hypertension, which totally parallels the situation with the prostate and the bladder. High blood pressure creates an environmental situation for the heart in which it needs to work harder to pump blood because of the increased resistance created within the walls of the arteries. Consequently, the muscle fibers of the heart hypertrophy, resulting in a larger and more muscular and powerful heart that can continue to pump blood effectively through the resistance of the high arterial pressure. The problem is that the “compensated” heart is subject to problems such as angina, arrhythmias and heart failure, and can get to the point—similar to the urinary bladder—where it decompensates and fails. Exercising the heart is desirable, but this is not the kind of exercise you want your heart to have

The powerful resource of plasticity and adaptability can positively and purposely be tapped into by challenging our tissues to adapt to the appropriate environmental changes (resistances) to enable our tissues to perform at extreme high levels of function. One type of resistance that is most beneficial is exercise.

Exercise is all about adaptation. The SAID principle (Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) posits that our body will adapt—in neuromuscular, mechanically, and metabolic terms—to the specific demands that are placed on it. This is the very reason why both endurance and resistance exercises get easier the more effort we put into doing them. Asthe body is subjected to gradual and progressive “overloads,” the heart, lungs and muscles adapt and a “new normal” level of fitness is achieved. It comes down to the fact that our muscles are plastic and capable of hypertrophy (growth) or atrophy (shrinkage) depending on the environment to which they are exposed.

I enjoy recreational cycling, but to date this season have not spent as much time in the saddle as I would have liked. I’ve been out for a number of 20-mile rides but last weekend went out with a friend for a hilly 50 miles. The last 10 miles were extremely difficult, as my body had not yet adapted to that kind of challenge; clearly I don’t have my cycling “legs” back yet. My heart and lungs were not the issue, but my glutes and quads were not up to the beating and challenge…but they will be in due time. Just as the marathon runner who gradually builds up to running the distance, so it is with every endurance sport

Adaptation to exercise is applicable to all aspects of fitness: cardiovascular or aerobic fitness in which the heart and lungs adapt to endurance efforts; musculo-skeletal fitness in which our muscles and underlying bony framework adapt to bearing loads and working against resistance, leaving our muscles sinewy, strong and toned; core strength, which is fitness of our torso muscles that allows us to maintain good posture, stability, balance and coordination as well as serving as a platform for efficient use of our arms and legs; and flexibility fitness in which our muscles are elastic, limber, supple and more resistant to injury.

Our bodies demand physical activity in order to function optimally. For example, our bones require weight bearing and biomechanical stresses in order to stay well mineralized and in peak functional condition, as bone mineralization is stimulated by the stresses brought on by a variety of movements. The same holds true for every organ in our body to maintain maximal functioning—they need to be employed and put into the service for which they were designed

“Use it or lose it.” As much as our bodies adapt positively to resistance, so they will adapt negatively to a lack of resistance. For example, after wearing a cast on one’s arm for 6 weeks, there is noticeable wasting of the arm muscles, known as “disuse atrophy.” Contrast this with the opposite scenario—exercising one’s arms by doing curls on a regular basis—which will result in an obvious hypertrophy of the arm muscles. When our bodies are sedentary—for example on the basis of a severe injury requiring bed rest—there is a rapid demineralization and thinning of our bones. Spinal cord injured patients who are paralyzed undergo just such a rapid demineralization. Astronauts who spend time in zero gravity (which takes all biomechanical forces away from the bones) experience a remarkably fast demineralization and risk not only thin bones—as does anybody with rapid demineralization— but also of developing kidney stones from the calcium mobilized from the bones. The process of adaptation is not limited to our muscles and bones, but involves each and every internal organ, including the kidneys, liver, pancreas, brain, etc. That is why it is so important to expose our bodies to positive “resistances” and not to “negative” resistances.

Our central nervous system is constantly being remodeled in response to environmental exposure. The brain’s neurons undergo anatomical changes and reorganization of their networks with new neural connections in response to new situations or environmental changes (learning). Through the processes of “neuroplasticity” and adaptation, learned behaviors actually modify the electrical hardwiring of the brain, which is dynamic and constantly subject to revision. Synaptic “sculpting” facilitates learning and synaptic “pruning” occurs when patterns are not repeated. Thus is explained on a biological basis how learning occurs.

Bottom line: Humans are bestowed with an amazing and magical capacity for plasticity and adaptation, which can be transformative when used to our advantage and benefit. Expose our bodies to positive cognitive and physical nourishment and they will be carved into beautiful, highly functioning machines. Expose our bodies to negative forces or absence of positive forces and they will falter into ugly, poorly functioning, maladaptive machines.

 

Andrew Siegel, MD

Author of Male Pelvic Fitness: Optimizing Sexual and Urinary Health; available in e-book (Kindle, iBooks, Nook) and coming soon in paperback. www.MalePelvicFitness.com

 

A new blog is posted every week. To receive the blogs in the in box of your email go to the following link and click on “email subscription”: http://www.healthdoc13.wordpress.com