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Why Muscle Mass is Important for Heart Health

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, it accounts for 47-60% of lean body mass in both men and women, and it’s essential for our overall health span and longevity.

Muscle mass refers to the amount of muscle tissue in the body, including skeletal muscle (muscle that creates movement), smooth muscle (muscle that makes up the walls of our internal organs and structures to aid involuntary movement) and cardiac muscle (muscle that makes up the walls of the heart and stimulates heart contractions).

The primary job of these soft tissues is to aid in the movement of the bones and skeleton. But physical functionality aside, muscle plays a critical role in our overall health. As the largest organ system in the human body, the muscular system is the largest site of glucose metabolism, it helps bolster the immune system, promotes cognitive function and most importantly – it helps keep the heart pumping.

Heart Health Indicators

Blood pressure

With every heartbeat, the body pumps blood through your arteries and around the body. As the heart beats, blood is forced up against the artery walls and the power behind this force is measured as your blood pressure. Cardiac muscle is crucial for the pumping action of the heart, and it needs to provide enough force to pump enough blood to meet the metabolic demands of the body.

Cholesterol

Cholesterol is a type of lipid that is produced naturally by the liver. It’s crucial for many process including the formation of cell membranes, hormone production vitamin D synthesis. There are two main types of cholesterol, LDL (or commonly known as “bad” cholesterol) and HDL (commonly known as “good” cholesterol).

LDL is known as the “bad” type of cholesterol because it carries cholesterol to your arteries, increasing the risk of cholesterol build up along the artery wall. When this happens, it creates a ‘cholesterol plaque’ that can narrow the arteries and limit blood flow, increasing the risk of blood clots. In contrast, healthy levels of HDL cholesterol can divert cholesterol back to the liver and help lower the risk of blood clots and the complications that may follow. Healthy muscle mass is associated with low levels of LDL cholesterol.

Resting heart rate

Research shows that your resting heart rate is not only a way to measure your current cardiovascular health and fitness, but it can also reflect your long-term health. Your resting heart rate is the number of times your heart beats per minute at rest. A normal resting heart rate (typically 55-85 bpm for a healthy adult) reflects a healthy functioning heart, and studies show that those who are more active have a lower resting heart rate.

How Muscle Tissue Supports Cardiovascular Health

Increasing physical activity is the typical recommendation given to anyone wanting to improve their cardiovascular health, but what type of physical activity is best?

Higher levels of physical fitness correlate with increased muscle mass, contribute to more efficient heart function and help reduce the strain on the cardiovascular system. Regular physical activity strengthens the heart muscle, improves blood circulation, and aids in maintaining a healthy weight, all of which are crucial for cardiovascular health. Recent studies have highlighted the benefits of exercise that promotes muscle growth specifically to support cardiovascular function.

As we age, our heart ages with us. There are many cardiovascular changes that slowly manifest as we age, but it turns out that increased muscle mass may help to mitigate these changes.

Having low muscle mass has long been associated with poor cardiovascular health outcomes, and a recent study published in the Journal of American Heart Association indicated that having greater muscle mass can improve glycemic control, support blood pressure and lipid profiles and improve body composition.

Another study investigated the associations of cardiorespiratory fitness, body fat percentage, fat free body mass index and mean arterial pressure and stiffness in over 140 women (aged 16-58). A higher fat free body mass index and a lower mean arterial pressure were independently associated with lower arterial stiffness.

Benefits of Strength Training for Cardiovascular health

Metabolic regulation

  • Muscle tissue plays an important role in the uptake and storage of glucose, helping the body maintain healthy insulin and blood sugar levels. When you have more muscle mass, your body is better able to process more glucose and when you use those muscles, it increases insulin sensitivity.
  • Having more muscle also increases transporter proteins like GLUT-1 that carry glucose into the cells from the bloodstream to be used as energy. Having more GLUT-1 transporters helps the body process glucose more efficiently.

Body composition

  • Muscle tissue is metabolically active, meaning that it requires energy to maintain itself. When you have more muscle mass, your metabolic rate naturally increases to sustain the energy demands of the muscle, which aids in fat loss and prevents increased body fat percentage .

Improved Circulation & Blood Vessel Health

  • Resistance training enhances vascular connections and the formation of new capillaries, increasing blood flow to tissues.
  • Improved blood flow supplies muscle tissue with fresh blood and oxygen while also transporting waste products from the muscle tissue back to the kidneys. Improving waste management in this way promotes faster recovery, less post-workout muscle soreness and improved tissue health overall.

Boosts mitochondrial function

  • Mitochondria use glucose to produce ATP, the body’s energy currency. One study showed that people to strength train and have more muscle mass also have a higher capacity for producing ATP compared to their baseline ATP production. The same study showed that those who strength trained produced more energy overall and used up more glucose in comparison to those who didn’t.
  • Having more muscle = more mitochondria.

Learn how to unlock the benefits of strength training to support healthspan, healthy aging and elevate how you feel from the inside out here.

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