An April 24 online report published by the Clinical Journal of the American Society of Nephrology showed that muscle mass, particularly in the lower body, may have beneficial effects on the physical health of dialysis patients. The report details a study of 105 hemodialysis patients. Each patient was assessed for BMI (body-mass index), mid-thigh muscle, waist size, and abdominal fat. These measurements were used to further measure each patient’s physical abilities.
Patients with more mid-thigh muscle were able to walk further distances in a 6 minute time trial, indicating they walked at a faster pace. The same patients tended to score higher on other physical and mental health scores. This is an interesting association, since dialysis patients are typically told not to lose weight and to “take it easy.”
Medical professionals are responding to the report with requests for clinical trials. Dr. Srinivasan Beddhu of the University of Utah said, “Because this study shows that higher muscle mass is associated with better physical function and quality of life in dialysis patients, interventions such as increased physical activity that decrease fat mass and increase muscle mass are likely to improve physical function, quality of life and survival in dialysis patients.”
You Don’t Know What You Have ’til it’s Gone
I have first hand experience of how muscle strength contributes to overall physical health. I don’t receive dialysis, but I can relate to this issue on a personal level. Just over a year ago I experienced my first injury in over 20 years of playing competitive sports. I completely tore my ACL as well as damaged the meniscus in my right knee. After some thought, I decided to have surgery and repair the damage. I was practically immobilized for the first two weeks after the operation. The following two months required me to wear a brace that insured I didn’t bend my knee. In those two months I lost nearly four inches in muscle mass around my thigh.
For years I had played soccer 2-3 times a week. I also attended the gym regularly with my wife on the weekends. After the muscle loss, the simplest tasks became surprisingly difficult. Climbing stairs, picking things off the floor, and walking in general was tedious. I tried to avoid them whenever possible. Here I am, a year later, and have just started regaining the strength to run, sidestep, and jolt forward, all requirements for sports activity. During this period, my lack of rigorous exercise has caused me to gain 15 pounds. Now that I’ve got my leg back in shape, the plan is to start chipping away at that extra weight. The body is connected. When one part isn’t operating at full capacity, the whole suffers. You don’t know what you have, ’til it’s gone.