Muscle is a critical component of our body composition. Our body composition consists of fat, muscle, bone, organs and water. Muscle could be called the “strong and silent” component. I liken it to valuable real estate that we need to preserve and maintain over our lifetime. Unfortunately, aging and suboptimal lifestyle decisions can destroy this precious real estate. We must actively intervene to protect, build and sustain our muscle mass.
SARCOPENIA is defined as the age-related gradual loss of muscle mass, strength and function. A crucial antiaging goal is to combat and prevent sarcopenia. Fortunately, the human body has a remarkable ability to build muscle and get stronger regardless of chronologic age.
Muscle plays a vital role in healthy aging allowing us to live long and vibrant lives. In contrast, muscle loss, sarcopenia, shortens our health span and increases disease risk astronomically.
Let’s look at the multiple ways that muscle impacts health and aging:
Increased muscle mass decreases the risk of osteoporosis, a medical condition in which the bones become brittle and fragile from loss of bone mass. Increased muscle mass improves balance, strength and flexibility decreasing the risk of falls, while loss of muscle accelerates bone loss leading to osteoporosis. The loss of bone mass and strength plus loss of muscle mass and strength, so common with aging, dramatically raises the risk of falls and fractures. Maintaining and improving muscle and bone strength is of paramount importance for optimal health.
Muscle is metabolically active tissue that I refer to as our metabolic furnace. Muscle promotes the body’s resting energy expenditure so we burn sugar and fat efficiently. Think of muscle as burning carbohydrates instead of allowing the body to store carbohydrates as fat, so we can get stronger and leaner. Stoke your metabolic furnace by muscle mass enhancement.
More muscle means less disease. Muscle greatly aids blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity lowering the risk of diabetes, high-blood pressure, brain issues and heart disease. Muscle plays a vital role in preventing the metabolic diseases so prevalent in society today. In contrast, low muscle mass leads to higher blood sugar levels and insulin resistance. Insulin resistance increases risk of hypertension, obesity, diabetes, heart disease and cognitive impairment. Amazing to realize that the more muscle you have the less likely you are to develop diabetes, heart disease and dementia!
Muscle reinforces our ability to withstand stress, injury and illness. Muscle serves as a reserve of amino acids used to build proteins needed by the body at times of stress, injury or illness. Skeletal muscles play a pivotal role in regulating protein availability for use by major organs such as the heart and liver as well as supporting healthy immune system. Sarcopenia not only makes us vulnerable to illness and injury but also much less able to thrive and survive these stressors.
We have discussed previously the destructive role chronic inflammation plays on health and aging. Low muscle mass impairs metabolism leading to increased body fat and obesity. Fat cells, adipocytes, release inflammatory chemicals resulting in amplified levels of damaging inflammation throughout the body.
Less muscle —–> more fat —–>more inflammation —–> accelerated aging.
Literally adding insult to injury, excessive levels of inflammation cause muscle breakdown producing the downward spiral of decreased muscle mass, increased inflammation, increased body fat and continued muscle loss.
No wonder chronic inflammation is labeled INFLAMMAGING!
So how do we stay strong and fit to live longer, healthier lives?
DIET: Consumption of high-quality proteins and avoiding inflammatory processed foods is mandatory. The inflammation spurred on by sugars, grains, and processed oils will erode your muscles away.
Paleo diet is a perfect example of an optimal, naturally anti-inflammatory diet providing required nutrients for muscle building and preservation.
Ketogenic diet can play a key role in preserving muscle mass, stimulating mitochondria production and lowering inflammation. Promoting nutritional ketosis with a low- carbohydrate, moderate-protein, high-fat diet, and utilizing intermittent fasting, will enhance your body composition transformation.
BCAA: Branched Chain Amino Acids supplements, pre or post exercise, promote muscle protein synthesis to support muscle strength and function.
First and foremost we must avoid a sedentary lifestyle because being inactive accelerates muscle loss. We need to move our bodies to make muscle! However, over-training and excessive exercise, especially without adequate recovery time and/or supportive nutrition, is detrimental to body composition. The resultant stress response releases excessive cortisol destroying muscle and bone.
Strength training is essential for muscle mass optimization. Resistance training with free weights, machines or body weight exercises, 2-3 times a week, will provide great results.
Compound exercises, exercises that involve multiple joints and muscle groups simultaneously, create time-efficient, muscle-building results.
Examples of compound exercises include squats, rows, pull-ups, dips, bench-press, overhead press and leg press.
HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training stimulates anabolic hormone release, such as growth hormone and testosterone, for muscle mass gains.
Adding a few HIIT sessions during the week is synergistic with resistance training for boosts in muscle strength, mass and function.
Muscle gains don’t occur during exercise but rather in the days AFTER exercise. When we exercise we break down muscle so it is crucial to allow adequate recovery time for muscle repair and strength gains to occur. Depending on your age, the recovery time required may be 24-72 hours between resistance training sessions. Sufficient post exercise recovery allows the exercised muscle groups to repair and rebuild effectively.
High-quality sleep is mandatory for restorative hormone release to optimize our bodies’ ability to rebuild and recover successfully. Sleep deprivation blunts growth hormone and testosterone release while simultaneously amplifying the release of destructive levels of cortisol and other stress hormones.
FIGHT AGING WITH STRENGTH
Remarkably, when we add muscle and get stronger we improve our cardiovascular function, neurologic function, metabolism, immune system and body composition.
Instead of succumbing to the erosive forces that age us, we are able to remain fit, active, energetic and resilient for a vibrant lifetime.