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184 Lystra Estates Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27517
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By Michael Sharp, MD

I’m a pretty active guy. I love racquetball and get a few games in every week with my friends. I tally it doubly, once as aerobic work-out (although my cycling partner says it’s not!) and secondly as social support building. Social support is good for what ails you, you know. Chuck does the monthly schedule so even when outside-the-covers seems much less appealing than under-the-covers, the social contract quiets the stay-at-home voice.

Michael Sharp, MD

I also love to garden. The Centers for Disease Control (bless them—and pray for them, yes?) says this activity is a form of “moderate cardiovascular exercise.” I bought one 50-pound bag of soil acidifier and one 50-pound bag of mineral amendment this weekend and although I used a cart to get it around, there was some good grunting going on at either end of the trip. Weeding, digging holes, pruning, I’ve noticed, require stretching and muscles and lots of steps. This is good.

The Benefit of Outdoors

Have you heard of ODD? Outdoor Deficit Disorder—an affliction now epidemic among us—especially in our young. Many of my patients have anxiety and our therapy team and I are constantly looking for ways to reduce anxiety (and thus prolong life). A very reliable one is to suggest people start getting outside more often. My friend Dick told me of a school in Asheville that his grandson attends where every Wednesday is spent entirely outdoors—whatever the weather—exploring nature, investigating streams, engaging in sports, hiking mountains—year-round. They get their academic work done in four days and the fifth school day is for this. Dick says that this shows on the kids’ ruddy faces and in their attentive and excelling academic work.


While it’s undoubtedly a positive that my gardening gets me outside to do the necessary planting, weeding, and digging, just as important to my well-being is the appreciation for nature and the right-sizing of me that happens during the gardening. I write this in late January and it is such a wonder to live in North Carolina where the camellias and hellebores remind us that things grow, prosper, and flower in an endless rhythm, some reliably ascending while others retreat.

So imagine my dismay when I happened to do a bioelectrical impedance analysis with an instrument we keep here in the clinic to measure body composition. In less than a year I’ve lost over 20 pounds of muscle mass.
This is a phenomenon known to happen as we age. The official name for this is sarcopenia—muscle loss associated with aging. There doesn’t appear to be a single cause and it is thought to be associated with a number of factors including changes in the body’s antioxidant capacity and anabolic hormones—including testosterone. I wondered why those 50 pound bags felt so heavy!

The good news is that this is both preventable and reversible. My good wife Kathleen supported me by going with me to be assessed by the head trainer at the nearby gym. She came out pretty well! Me—not so much. So we’ve started on a program and we try to get to the gym three times a week. The most important aspect of this exercise is that the resistance training and the science of how to do this most effectively has gotten good. Thirty minutes three times a week. There are other good things that can happen too—such as balance training to prevent falls and stretching—to ensure I’ll be able to continue to weed! This new workout program, combined with my two or three times a week racquetball, gets me the 5- or 6-day-a-week exercise program that is suggested by geriatricians for promoting longevity. Will it help? The data is quite clear.

I’m 70 years old. If I maintain a healthy lifestyle that includes this level of exercise and I do the other things we know to be healthy, my chance of living to 90 is good—better than 50:50. Perhaps more importantly, the quality of my life and absence of disability promises a gardening life for many years to come! If I don’t, my odds range from not-so-good to dismal. In one study, 70-year olds who did not practice the healthy living behaviors had only a 3 percent change of living that long. Oh my.

Now that is a motivator!

To your Health.