Muscle strength is so much more than just pumping iron in the gym. Muscle is one of the most important factors that contribute to total body energy expenditure, especially during exercise. It supports the balance of our body and accounts for 47-60% of lean body mass in both men and women and it’s essential for overall health span and longevity.
The muscular system is the organ of longevity
Dr Gabrielle Lyon is widely known for her work in the field of longevity, but her approach is completely different from what you may have heard from avid blue zone researchers. What Dr Lyon has in common with many functional practitioners is that she recommends shifting the focus from treating diseases to proactively optimizing health and advocating for preventative care. She does this by focusing in on the largest organ in the body – skeletal muscle.
When we think about muscle tissue, our minds usually wander to strength and mobility. But our muscle holds so much more power and potential than that. Rather than taking the stance that we are over-fat, Dr Lyon shares that what we really are is “under-muscled” – which is affecting our health span. One meta-analysis combining data from over 1.5 million subjects found that activities that supported muscle-strengthening were associated with a 10-17% reduced risk of multiple health complications associated with aging.
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How exactly does muscle influence our ability to live longer? The more muscle mass we have, the less vulnerable we are to the health complications associated with aging. After the age of around 30-35 years old, our muscle power slowly declines in a linear fashion but after the age of 65 (age 70 for men), muscle deterioration speeds up. Studies show that elderly with higher muscle mass and better mobility are less likely to experience falls.
Weight training, or resistance training is essential when it comes to preserving muscle mass, slowing down the aging process, longevity – and so much more. One study revealed that just 8 weeks of whole-body resistance training (3 training days per week) improved body composition, reduced inflammation and improved both lipid and glycemic profiles in women over the age of 68.
Muscle tissue and insulin
One of the most important ways strength training supports overall health has to do with insulin – a hormone that keeps our blood sugar in check. Insulin is responsible for taking the glucose from the food we eat and moving it from the bloodstream into our cells to be used for energy. It’s closely linked to the function of mitochondria, and insulin resistance is a common driver of mitochondrial dysfunction. Studies show that may improve the body’s response to insulin, especially in overweight individuals, which reduces our risk for developing metabolic complications like insulin resistance.
Muscle and brain health
Strength training may also have positive effects on brain function. A recent review paper suggests that resistance training may help improve cognition in both adults and elderly. Experts have found that strength training appears to protect areas of the brain associated with cognitive decline – and may help increase hippocampus volume in the elderly.
Muscle growth increases mitochondria
A recent study conducted over 2.5 years shows that age related declines in physiological function and mobility can be attributed to mitochondrial dysfunction. Mitochondria are tiny organelles found within almost every one of your cells. They are responsible for generating energy in the form of ATP to help your body function. ATP is what fuels your muscles and drives physical endurance – and the more hard-working mitochondria you have, the more capacity your body has to produce energy. Mitochondrial health is now recognized as one of the most important factors for longevity.
Exercise is widely known as a tool to protect mitochondria in many ways. Strength training increases mitochondria biogenesis, it increases the amount of mitochondria within muscle tissue and it enhances the ability of mitochondria to produce ATP (energy).
3 key supplements for muscle growth and recovery
If building lean muscle is your goal, you might want to consider including these supplements into your routine to maximize your muscle gains.
How to prevent muscle loss and support muscle growth
One of the most significant contributors to muscular atrophy or deterioration is limited use (use it, or lose it!). The best way to support muscle growth and maintenance is to practice strength training and fuel your muscles the right way.
Aging and inactivity are the two most influential factors when it comes to muscle loss, so strength training – aka, resistance training – is one of the best things you can do as you age to preserve your muscle mass (and maintain your health and independence as you age!).
- Frequency: Just 2-3 days per week of resistance training (3-4 sets of exercises for 10-12 reps) has been shown to be an effective weight training routine for beginner and intermediate lifters. Dr Lyon recommends the below workout split for males and females.
Monday: Pull and lower body
Tuesday: Low-impact cardio
Wednesday: Push & lower body
Thursday: High-impact cardio
Friday: Pull and lower body
Tuesday: Low-impact cardio
Thursday: Lower body
Friday: High-impact cardio
Key: ‘Pull’ workouts = back, biceps, forearms. ‘Push’ workouts = chest, shoulders, triceps.
Eating enough protein
Protein is a macronutrient that is made up of amino acids – aka the building blocks of our muscles. We need to be eating an adequate amount of protein to maintain and build healthy muscle tissue, and it’s probably a lot more than you think. While the recommended daily intake for protein sits at 0.8g protein per kg of body weight but keep in mind – this is only the amount required to help you meet your basic needs as a human.
A recent study shows that it actually takes an average threshold of 20-30g of protein per meal to stimulate protein synthesis. Experts like Dr Lyon, and world-leading researchers in protein like Dr Donald Layman recommend aiming for 1.4 - 1.5g protein per kg of body weight – almost double the recommended daily amount.
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