How Building Muscle Makes Life More Awesome

By Tom Nikkola, CSCS, CISSN, Pn1

Muscle-building used to be a topic of interest only for meatheads – hardcore bodybuilders or athletes.

Not anymore.

In fact, building muscle could be as important for “Everyday Joe’s and Jane’s” as it is for athletes. While it might look cool to carry more muscle on your frame, the health benefits far outweigh the aesthetics.

Simply put, more muscle has a significant effect on quality of life. Especially later in life.

The average person begins losing lean body mass as young as 25 years of age.[i]

By age 40, lean mass decreases about 8% per decade until age 70, at which time lean mass loss accelerates to 15% per decade.[ii]

In the United States, 20% of the population will be over 65 years old by 2029.[iii] In the developed world, those over 80 years old make up the fastest growing subgroup of the population.[iv]

That means there are a lot of people at an age where a loss of lean mass could become a serious issue. It also means that if you’re still a young adult, you should do everything you can to maintain, or even build more lean mass than you have today.

Someday you’re going to be an old man or woman. You’ll look back and say “I sure wish I would have taken better care of myself” or you’re going to say “I’m glad I took care of myself.”

With your future health in mind, consider all the awesomeness you have to gain from enhancing lean body mass…

More Muscle Equals More Strength

At the extremes of muscle mass, like competitive bodybuilders, more muscle doesn’t always equate to more strength. But for us natural mortals, for the most part, the more muscle you build, the stronger you’ll be.

The more strength you have, the more physically you’re prepared for everyday activities; carrying groceries, lifting kids (or your significant other), and enjoying recreational sports.

That said, I can see how it’s hard to get excited about making it easier to carry groceries or do every tasks with less effort. There is a powerful psychological benefit to being strong, too.

If you don’t use your muscles, you lose them, and the strength they produce. Of course, strength does come back eventually.

I recently tore my bicep tendon. I had surgery three days later. Two weeks after that, my cast came off and I got my first look at my arm. The difference between my injured left arm and my right arm was dramatic. After just two weeks of not using it, my right arm, along with muscles in my shoulder, chest and back atrophied considerably. They looked like they belonged on the 90-year-old version of myself. Needless to say, I lost a dramatic amount of strength.

One of the greatest fears of older adults is breaking a hip. Most often, those who do trip and break a hip, or break their hip and then fall, do so because they’ve lost muscle and bone density.

When you actively work on your strength every week, you also provide support for your joints. You protect them from the effects of stepping off a curb the wrong way, or sliding across some unseen ice.

Muscle Helps Control Blood Sugar

Strength training and sufficient sleep and dietary protein increases the size of type II muscle fibers. These fibers store carbohydrate, or sugar. More type II muscle fiber density translates to more storage space for carbohydrates.

More than one third of the population has prediabetes, yet only one in ten of those who have it, know they have it.[v] If that’s not bad enough, the growth of full-blown diabetes is expected to rise 64% from 2010 to 2025.[vi]

This isn’t a concern only for those who are overweight. Seemingly healthy or thin individuals often develop blood sugar problems form poor nutrition, sedentary lifestyles and a lack of resistance training as well. We even see it in those who are avid runners, but who disregard the importance of resistance training or eat excessive levels of carbohydrates.

Elevated blood sugar increases the presence of advanced glycation end-products (AGEs), which are associated with cancer.[vii] There’s also indication elevated blood sugar levels can lead to other degenerative diseases like dementia or Alzheimer’s, and, of course, heart disease.

Insulin resistance develops when the body’s blood sugar levels stay elevated for a prolonged period of time. The only two places sugar is stored is in the liver and muscle. The liver has a small capacity. Muscle has a limited capacity as well, but you can build more muscle, creating more storage space for blood sugar.

Insulin resistance and diabetes can increase the rate of muscle loss, more than being sedentary alone.

Part of the reason people experience a rise in blood sugar as they age is from the loss of muscle. It doesn’t have to be that way. Or it at least doesn’t have to be that extreme.

Big muscles = big carbohydrate storage tanks.

Building Muscle Usually Builds Bone Too

Bone density is often a topic discussed more with women than men. Five times as many women as men end up with osteoporosis. According to the CDC, 2% of men and 10% of women have osteoporosis of the hip in the United States.[viii]

Calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D and K supplementation have been shown to help maintain bone density, but supplementation alone is not enough to maintain bone density. The body must consistently be stimulated with outside resistance to maximize bone density. Like muscles, when bones don’t encounter heavy resistance, their density decreases.

Another bone or joint-related issue with aging is arthritis. Because of the pain often associated with arthritis, many people refrain from activity and resistance training. However, increasing lean body mass can actually help to improve some forms of arthritis.[ix]

Strong muscles almost always translate to strong bones.

Building Muscle Helps Manage Body Fat

Maintaining muscle requires more energy than almost any other tissue in the body. A few organs burn more calories by weight than muscle, such as the brain, which uses about 20% of the body’s calories each day. However, you’re not going to grow a bigger brain to burn more calories.

Building or maintaining muscle is your best option for boosting metabolic rate. Under normal circumstances,

metabolic rate begins to drop after age 20 at a rate of 2-3% per decade. By the age of 50, metabolic rate drops even faster, averaging 4% per decade. By age 70, metabolic rate has dropped as much as 30%.[x]

As metabolic rate drops, it becomes more difficult to keep body fat from accumulating. Cutting back on calorie intake leads to further muscle loss, which can further reduces metabolic rate.

Adding excessive cardiovascular training on top of a reduced-calorie diet further speeds the loss of muscle mass.[xi]

Whenever I think of the how lean mass affects the ability to maintain a healthy body fat level, I immediately picture some of the “skinny fat” clients I had in the past.

In street clothes, these individuals looked thin and fairly healthy. As soon as I’d grab their arms or legs to take their body fat measures, I’d feel the softness in their arms and legs.

Though their arms and legs weren’t excessively big, they were very soft and squishy. A lot like my injured arm I mentioned above.

The greater lean mass one maintains throughout a fat loss or weight loss program, the greater the chance the weight will stay off long-term.

More muscle, and a good diet, usually leads to a leaner body.

Building Muscle Builds Self-Confidence

So often, we focus on the physical health benefits of strength training. But, in my experience, the mental health benefits from gaining strength are equally powerful.

I loved seeing the self-confidence grow in my clients as they gained strength and power.

Different than competitive sports, the accomplishments associated with building muscle are internal.

Seeing the outline of a deltoid muscle, a line down the thigh or the shape of the triceps from leaning on a table for the first time is a pretty awesome feeling. Setting a personal record in the squat or deadlift was something to celebrate.

I remember seeing the smile on the face of many women I trained who did their first pullup. And then their first 10.

The confidence from their fitness program often led to more confidence in their personal and work life as well.

Building muscle often builds self-esteem.

Building Lean Mass

If it were up to me, I’d start a “Lean Mass Movement.” We should put more attention on lifestyle, exercise and nutrition choices that support lean body mass. In doing so, we could combat a number of the diseases that cripple people as they reach the later part of their lives.

Eat plenty of high-quality protein. Get at least seven hours of quality sleep every night. Make sure your hormones are at optimal levels. Weight train (with perfect form) with loads you’ve never lifted before – squat, press, pull and deadlift.

Make your body work hard, and your body will work hard for you.

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If you’re motivated to start a muscle-building program and have access to a Life Time center, schedule a consultation with one of our fitness professionals.

[i] Short KR, et al. Decline in skeletal muscle mitochondrial function with aging in humans. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA. 2005;102:5618-5623

[ii] Kim TN, Choi KM. Sarcopenia: Definition, Epidemiology, and Pathyphysiology. J Bone Metab. 2013;20:1-10

[iii] Colby SL, Ortman JM. The Baby Boom Cohort in the United States: 2012 to 2060. United Census Bureau Current Population Reports. May 2014. http://www.census.gov/prod/2014pubs/p25-1141.pdf

[iv] Koopman R, van Loon LJC. Aging, exercise, and muscle protein metabolism. J Appl Physiol. 2009;106:2040-2048

[v] National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Diabetes Report Card. CDC. 2012. Retrieved Sept 12, 2014. http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/pdf/diabetesreportcard.pdf

[vi] Grace Rattue. “Diabetes Population May Rise To 53 Million Within 13 Years In USA.”Medical News Today. MediLexicon, Intl., 18 May. 2012. Web.

19 May. 2012. http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/245581.php

[vii] Grote VA, Nieters A, Kaaks R, Tjønneland A, Roswall N, et al. The Associations of Advanced Glycation End Products and Its Soluble Receptor with Pancreatic Cancer Risk: A Case-Control Study within the Prospective EPIC Cohort. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2012;21:619-628

[viii] Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Osteoperosis. FastStats, retrieved August 13, 2014: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/osteoporosis.htm

[ix] Lemmey AB, Marcora SM, Chester K, Wilson S, Casanova F, Maddison PJ. Effects of a High-Intensity Resistance Training in Patients With Rheumatoid Arthritis: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Arth & Rheu. 2009;61(12):1726-34

[x] Chau D, Cho LM, Jani P, St Jeor ST. Individualizing recommendations for weight management in the elderly. Curr Op Clin Nutr Metab CareI. 2008;11(1):27-31

[xi] Bryner RW, Ullrich IH, Sauers J, Donley D, Hornsby G, Kolar M, Yeater R. Effects of Resistance vs. Aerobic Training Combined With an 800 Calorie Liquid Diet on Lean Body Mass and Resting Metabolic Rate. J Am Coll Nutr. 1999;18(1):115-121

The posts on this blog are not intended to suggest or recommend the diagnosis, treatment, cure, or prevention of any disease, nor to substitute for medical treatment, nor to be an alternative to medical advice. The use of the suggestions and recommendations on this blog post is at the choice and risk of the reader.