Building muscle mass and strength training have their obvious benefits but there is so much more than looking great in a swimsuit. Muscles help you move, lift and carry and increased muscle mass plays a vital role in keeping you healthy. It can protect you against disease, fight obesity, maintain bone strength, and increase your resilience to stress and illness as we get older.
There are three different types of muscle in the human body:
- Cardiac muscles, as the name suggests, are found only in the heart where they line the walls and work to pump blood throughout the body. They are completely involuntary and you do not consciously control how and when they move.
- Smooth muscles are also involuntary and are found lining some of your most vital organs including the stomach, oesophagus and the bronchi of the lungs – as well as the walls of blood vessels. Their primary purpose is to rhythmically contract in order to control organ function such as moving food through the oesophagus or expanding the lungs when breathing.
- Skeletal muscle is what is often referred to as muscle mass. These attach directly to your skeleton and contract to facilitate movement. Sometimes known as voluntary muscles, you have direct control over them and they shape and grow as you develop muscle mass and tone.
How much muscle is considered healthy is dependent on several factors including age and sex.
- For men aged 18-40, a normal body mass percentage would be in the region of 33.4 to 39.4%
- Between ages 41-60 this would be approximately 33.2% to 39.2%
- For those over 60s, as muscle mass fades naturally with age, the range is 33% to 38.7%.
These are considered healthy ranges. Providing you are in good health, there are no real disadvantages to increased muscle mass. However, if you are looking to gain a lot of muscle in a short space of time, it is always advisable to consult your physician or a personal trainer to make sure you are not placing undue strain on other areas of the body.
Sarcopenia or having too little muscle can mean you are ‘skinny fat’, or thin on the outside and flabby on the inside. Being slim is simply insufficient to protect you from osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity, and the impact of stress. Furthermore, there is a mortality risk associated with being thin and underweight.
Benefits of Muscle Mass
Provides Nutrient Reserves
Muscle mass is the body’s main reservoir for amino acids, the building blocks of protein. These are essential for growth, immunity, energy, and efficient functioning. If your diet is inadequate, or you find yourself unwell or nutritionally depleted or starved, the body relies on this ready supply to enable the synthesis proteins that are essential for life.
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Blood Sugar Control
Carbohydrates from your diet are stored in muscles as glycogen. This is your energy reserve to fuel activity and bodily functions. It follows that muscle is essential for maintaining energy levels, keeping you moving and allowing your body to use and store glucose.
Insulin resistance is one of the leading chronic health issues facing the modern world. It is believed to be a key cause of diabetes, high blood fat levels and high blood pressure.
Research has shown that high fat and low muscle mass, known as sarcopenic obesity, is even more strongly associated with insulin resistance obesity alone, demonstrating the vital part muscle mass plays in preventing metabolic diseases. The greater your muscle mass, the less likely you are to develop type 2 diabetes.
Boosts Metabolic Rate
Your body is constantly burning and utilizing energy simply to fuel essential body processes and to keep you alive. The higher the rate at which you burn this energy, the efficiently you make use of the energy you ingest and the less likely this is to make its way into your fat reserves.
The process of protein synthesis and breakdown in the muscles is the single biggest part of the body’s resting energy expenditure or REE. The more muscle, the higher the REE and the greater the metabolic rate. This means that being well-muscled will allow you to burn more energy, even when you’re sleeping!
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Reduces The Impact Of Illness & Injury
Reduces The Impact Of Illness & InjuryWhen the body is stressed due to illness, severe injury or infection, the need for amino acids is largely increased. This triggers a mechanism to break down the muscle protein to address this demand and provide an abundance of these crucial building blocks.
This process is challenging to reverse, even when following a well-formulated, balanced Paleo diet and supplementing if and when necessary. This is why those who are critically ill often seem to waste away. People with lower muscle mass may be less likely to survive severe burns, trauma or cancer.
Muscle mass can also have an impact on your recovery. A severe illness or accident can leave you frail and weak. It can be tough to recover and if you had insufficient muscle before this occurred, the extra loss can make it unlikely that you will ever regain full function and mobility. Strength and resistance training which builds your muscle mass can be seen as your insurance policy against future health problems.
Supports Heart Health
Research has uncovered a link between the body’s musculature and the most important muscle of all, the heart. Patients who had been admitted to hospital with cardiovascular disease had a lower mortality risk if they had greater muscle mass.
These findings appear to be independent of the level of fat. Simply having sufficient muscle mass can reduce the risk of heart attack death. If you are looking to prolong life, it is just as important to focus on maintaining muscle mass as encouraging fat loss.
Protects Your Bones
Illness, age, poor diets and menopause can all result in your bones becoming weaker and more brittle. Although broken bones can be painful and frustrating, osteoporosis is more than simply an inconvenience. Fractures can decrease mobility, increase the risk of blood clots and infections and even lead to premature death.
Having more muscle can support strong bones. Bones strengthen through bearing a heavy load which would include your body! Walking, lifting and weight training can all build your bones and protect against falls and fractures. It is more beneficial to begin building muscle mass and bone density from a young age, providing a great foundation to work from and getting you into good habits that can last a lifetime.
Improves Brain Function
Stimulating the brain with cognitive exercises may not be the only way to boost and support brain function. Any exercise will help keep your brain healthy, but resistance training and muscle synthesis in particular are beneficial for cognitive function, especially in older adults.
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Encourages Healthy Aging
Evidence that good nutrition and fitness can prevent weakness, immobility, and decline as we age is clear. Building your muscle mass can help encourage and support active, healthy aging.
Skeletal muscle also helps you live longer. The more muscle mass you have the better your chances of a longer life. More than either blood pressure or cholesterol, muscle mass has been shown to be the top biomarker for longevity.
“The importance of muscle size and strength for longevity and health in humans puts a new spin on the Darwinian statement “Survival of the Fittest” as it is clear that the strongest, fittest individuals are more likely to live longer and healthier lives.” ~ Michael McLeod
With more muscle, you have the ability to prevent falls, protect against illness and live dynamic, fulfilling lives. Unfortunately, as you age, building muscle gets harder and if you fail to use the muscle mass you have, you will quickly lose it. The best strategy is to work on building muscle mass now, and maintaining it by continuing to live an active lifestyle and eating a Paleo diet, supportive of your health and nutrient goals.
If you thought being muscular was only about vanity, then think again. Building muscle can help you feel good, look good and live longer.