Loretta Lynn came from severe poverty as the second of eight children of a coal miner in Kentucky, to become arguably America’s most prolific singer and songwriter over a 75-year career in country music. She started her career in 1960 after being married at age 15 and already having had four children. She did have some help on the way: her father played the banjo, her mother played the guitar, and her husband, to whom she remained married for 50 years, encouraged her to sing professionally and helped her get recording contracts with Decca Records and MCA. Along the way she put up with his alcoholism, fighting with her and cheating on her, but she made good use of her life stories in her songs. Just about everyone has heard her biggest hits:
• “You Ain’t Woman Enough (To Take My Man)”
• “Don’t Come Home A-Drinkin’ (With Lovin’ on Your Mind)”
• “One’s on the Way”
• “Fist City”
• “Coal Miner’s Daughter”
• “The Pill”
• “Rated X”
• “You’re Looking at Country”
and many more.
A Brilliant Career
She wrote more than 160 songs and released 60 albums. She received the most nominations for the Grammy Award (18) and won three times. She had 24 number one hit singles, 11 number one albums, was the ACM Artist of the Decade in 1970, and was the first woman to be named entertainer of the year in the Country Music Association in 1972 and by the Academy of Country Music in 1975. She received seven American Music Awards, eight Broadcast Music Incorporated awards, 13 Academy of Country Music awards, eight Country Music Association awards and 26 fan-voted Music City News awards. She was named “Artist of the Decade” for the 1970s by the Academy of Country Music, was inducted into the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Country Gospel Music Hall of Fame, was the recipient of Kennedy Center Honors, and was the first female country artist to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
Death After a Stroke and a Broken Hip
Lynn died in her sleep at her home on October 4, 2022, at the age of 90, most likely from heart failure caused by immobilization from broken bones and a stroke. Everyone loses bone with aging. She broke her arm and had multiple broken bones from falls, and also had knee surgery. In May 2017 at age 85, she suffered a stroke that probably caused her to spend a lot of time sitting and lying in bed. On January 1, 2018, she fell and broke her hip. Her fall was probably due to her lack of coordination caused by the stroke, and like most women over 80, she was likely to have osteoporosis, with weakened bones that break easily. The broken hip would cause even more immobilization that leads to heart failure.
How Not Moving Causes Death from Heart Failure
Every medical student learns that your skeletal muscles strengthen your heart, not the other way around (Physiological Reviews, Jan 1, 1955;35(1)). When your skeletal muscles contract, they squeeze the veins near them to contract and push extra blood back towards you heart. This increased flow of blood back to the inside of your heart widens and stretches your heart. This causes the heart to contract with more force against the increased resistance and makes the heart muscle stronger. When you lie in bed or sit and do not move for just a few days, your heart muscle weakens, and the longer you stay immobile, the weaker your heart muscle becomes (Eur J Epidemiol, 2014 Aug;29(8):559-65). Eventually, your heart muscle becomes too weak to pump enough oxygen to your brain, and you stop breathing and die of heart failure (Circulation Research, Jan 23, 2020;126(6))
Lessons from Loretta Lynn’s Long and Productive Life
You can cause heart failure just by sitting or lying down all the time. Every healthy person should have activities that keep them moving. You will benefit from cutting your own lawn, washing your own dishes, and cleaning your house. You will benefit even more by having a regular exercise program. Extensive research shows that exercising in a group markedly increases your chances of not dropping out and continuing your exercise program. If you have a condition that limits your activity, you should check with your doctor to see what you can do to keep moving without harming yourself.
Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com