Why animals are so strong, even without exercising

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By David Lozell Martin —

Let’s say there’s a 100-pound chimpanzee that has been lounging around for a few years, eating Twinkies (banana flavored), and getting zero exercise.

You, meanwhile, are 200 pounds of well-toned muscle, eating a healthy diet, exercising daily. What would happen if you entered the ring with the chimp?

You’d lose. Chimps are twice as strong as humans. The key to that strength is the composition of muscle fiber and how those muscles are controlled.

Compared to chimpanzees, humans have more muscle neurons, each of which serve fewer muscles. This gives us our fine motor skills, able to sew, pluck guitar strings, perform delicate surgery.

Chimps have fewer motor neurons that control larger masses of muscle, which gives them massive strength, but don’t ask a chimp to stitch up your appendix incision.

Also, most of the chimp’s muscles are fast-twitch fibers that contract quickly and with great power. Most of a human’s muscles are slow twitch, which contract more slowly but have greater endurance.

The baffling question is why can animals lounge around, never exercising, and then transition immediately from this sedentary state to performing incredible feats of strength and endurance?

According to www.science.org a researcher found that the bar-headed goose did nothing to prepare for its nearly 2,000-mile migration from Mongolia to India. Even more surprising, the geese’s fitness, as measured by heart rate and temperature, were the same when they began their migration with no prior exercise and when they ended their migration over the Himalayas.

According to www.newscience.com, an experiment was conducted in which caged songbirds with no exercise are subjected to daylight changes that signal an approaching migration season. The birds are then put in wind tunnels where, without any physical preparation, they fly nonstop for 10 hours.

The barnacle goose becomes fitter (stronger heart, bigger flight muscles) as the time for migration approaches even though the geese are not exercising. Black and brown bears can lie around, literally, for months during their hibernation and then emerge with the same muscle mass they had when they were in peak shape entering hibernation.

Falling temperatures or a change in food availability can trigger the release of blood compounds that strengthen and enhance the muscles in bears and some migratory birds without a single hour in the gym.

Lucky animals.

And tragic for you if you do get into a battle with an adult chimp. In multiple reports of chimpanzee attacks on humans, the result is the same: the chimpanzee bites off its victim’s facial features, fingers, and genitals. Think of that the next time you see a cute baby chimp holding hands with a celebrity. At around age 6, that animal (the chimp, not the celebrity) will be too powerful and aggressive to be allowed around humans and will have to be separated and confined for the remaining 30 years of its life.

Unlucky chimp.

The writer is a copy editor for the Eastern Shore Post. He is the author of 12 novels, including “The Crying Heart Tattoo,” which was named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year. He lives in Accomack County.

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