Your muscles are much like the engine of your body. They help with both fat and calorie burning, which can then influence your cardiovascular well-being and your likelihood of developing other health-related issues. The more muscle mass you have, the less body fat you accumulate and, hence, the stronger your immune system can be. You could also experience improved energy levels and reduced stress. Additionally, they recently discovered a link between muscle mass and longevity.
We start losing basic muscle mass once we hit our 40s, and this increases over time into our 50s, 60s and 70s. The National Institute on Aging explains that “a big culprit for losing our physical abilities as we grow older is the age-related loss of muscle mass and strength… in addition to making everyday tasks difficult, mobility limitations are also linked to higher rates of falls, chronic disease, nursing home admission and mortality.”
In order to build healthy muscle tissue, you need to consume protein, which is needed for nearly every function in the human body and every structure. “There are 20 different amino acids. We need the nine essentials – histidine, isoleucine, leucine, lysine, methionine, phenylalanine, threonine, tryptophan and valine – to support many processes that happen within our body,” explained Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, a functional medicine practitioner, board-certified family medicine physician and founder of the Institute for Muscle-Centric Medicine, on Worth.com. “Each amino acid has more than one role – they function as a metabolic signal and are necessary building blocks.”
She continued to say that not all proteins are created equal. “There are high-quality and lower-quality proteins, based on the essential amino acid profile. Proteins from animal sources (i.e., eggs, milk, meat, fish and poultry) provide the highest quality rating of food sources due to their ‘completeness’ of proteins.”
According to an article by orthopedic surgeon Howard J. Luks, muscle mass correlates with a decrease in all-cause mortality. Simply put, the more muscle mass you have, the lower your risk of dying from a chronic disease. The basic pillars of an exercise program include aerobic conditioning, resistance exercise, high-intensity exercise and balance training and, while chronic disease sets the stage for our decline as we age, what ultimately leads to frailty and our demise is the risk of falling and the injuries sustained from falling. When we are weaker and are experiencing increased loss of balance, it ups our chances of falling. And, as we age, each fall becomes progressively harder to recover from. Minimizing our risk of falls and the injuries that follow a fall, is directly related to our muscle mass, strength and balance. When we have more muscle mass and increased strength, we can also speed up our recovery process after a fall or injury.
The key to combating muscle mass loss is straightforward enough: build up that muscle mass. Do everything that you can to stave off the effects of aging. Luks said that just one hour of resistance exercise each week is enough to make a significant difference. Resistance workouts involve physical training that is designed to improve strength and endurance. This could mean using free weights or weight machines at a gym. Resistance bands are also super practical for easy resistance exercises, especially if you’re always on the go. A variety of training techniques such as body weight exercises, isometrics (tightening or contracting a specific muscle or group of muscles) and plyometrics (a type of exercise training that uses speed and force of different movements to build muscle power) can help lead to a decrease in this all-cause mortality risk.
As we get older, it’s imperative to consider integrating daily exercises to improve our overall muscle mass. Being physically active can be fun, as well as beneficial: get together with friends at the pool, join a walking club or take a fun class. Whatever you do, it will help you stave off muscle mass loss so that you can live a longer, higher-quality life.