Beyond the aesthetic allure of a toned physique, muscle health plays a profound role in various aspects of our well-being.
From fostering healthy aging to influencing metabolism, muscle is a dynamic tissue with far-reaching effects. This comprehensive guide explores the science-backed importance of building muscle, busts some common myths, and provides practical tips for seamlessly incorporating muscle-enhancing practices into daily life.
Importance of muscle for healthy aging
With every passing second, our bodies undergo a natural aging process, which often involves the loss of muscle mass, a phenomenon known as sarcopenia. Combatting this decline is crucial for preserving functionality and overall health.
Maintaining muscle isn't just a matter of appearance; it’s a key pillar in preventing frailty and muscle loss associated with aging.1
When an individual has a higher level of muscle mass, they are more likely to maintain independence and have fewer mobility limitations as they age. Building muscle is, therefore, essential for maintaining the ability to perform daily activities and promoting healthy aging. More on that later.
Muscle and a healthy metabolism
The intricate relationship between muscle and metabolism adds another layer to the importance of this dynamic tissue. Beyond its role in physical strength, having more muscle significantly accelerates metabolism,2 influencing how our bodies utilize energy. Muscle mass is a vital determinant of basal metabolic rate (BMR), indicating that individuals with more muscle burn more calories, even at rest.
The impact of muscle on metabolism also extends to weight management and fat loss.
In the realm of weight loss interventions, higher muscle mass is associated with more substantial fat loss. This underlines the critical role of muscle in reshaping body composition and achieving sustainable weight management.
When do you use muscle in your daily life?
The significance of building and maintaining muscle extends far beyond the gym, manifesting in the quality of everyday life.
Whether it's the practicality of carrying heavy grocery bags, the joy of playing with kids or pets, the efficiency of moving furniture around the house, or the participation in recreational sports, muscles are indispensable for performing these tasks with ease and a reduced risk of injury.
Let’s break it down. Picking up your child out of the car is an excellent example of using core muscles.
You open the door, lean over the car seat, unclick the seatbelt, and use your strength to lift your child, stand up, and step away from the car safely.
Each and every part of this process relies heavily on your core muscles. Without a strong and functional core, your back may not function properly when bending down, your arms and legs may not maintain the strength to lift, and your hips may fail when hinging, loading the stress onto your lower back. Ouch. Sounds pretty important, right?
Strength can improve balance, posture, stability, breathing, and the list can go on and on.
According to many studies,3 building muscle is one of the best ways to reduce pain. This is especially true for core muscles and lower back pain, a popular chronic issue in today’s sedentary world. The stronger you are, the less pressure is placed on your back throughout the day.
While the core is probably the most important, these examples are relevant to every part of your body.
Busting 7 common myths about building muscle
Myth 1: "Muscle will make you bulky"
This myth stems from the misconception that resistance training will inevitably result in a bodybuilder-esque bulky physique.
In reality, muscle growth is a gradual process. Achieving that jacked appearance requires specific and intentional efforts such as high-volume training, detailed dietary plans, and, often, the use of supplements.
For the average individual, building lean muscle through resistance training creates a toned and functional physique without excessive bulk.
Myth 2: "Muscle weighs more than fat"
This myth often confuses those starting out on their weight loss journey. The truth? Yes, a pound of muscle and a pound of fat weigh the same – one pound.
However, muscle is denser than fat, meaning it takes up less space. Therefore, someone with more muscle mass may appear leaner and more toned, even if they weigh the same as someone with more body fat.
Myth 3: "Women shouldn't lift weights because they’ll look too masculine"
Some women fear that resistance training will lead to a masculine appearance.
While women can gain muscle, as we debunked in Myth 1 above, it takes a lot of effort and a very meticulous training and nutrition plan to achieve that pumped-up look. Women have lower levels of testosterone than men, which makes it physiologically more challenging to develop significant muscle mass.
Instead, engaging in resistance training helps women build strength, enhance metabolism, and achieve a lean and sculpted physique.
Myth 4: "Older adults cannot build muscle"
Age is truly just a number when it comes to building muscle. Research in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research4 highlights the efficacy of resistance training in enhancing muscle mass, even in older adults. While the process may be slower, regular strength training can contribute to muscle growth, improved mobility, and functional independence in older age.
Myth 5: "Cardio is enough"
While cardiovascular exercise is crucial for heart health and calorie burning, strength training encompasses a wide range of benefits that contribute to our overall health and well-being in the long run! It enhances muscle mass, which, as discussed earlier, contributes to our metabolism and aging.
Add strength training to your exercise regime to create a holistic approach to overall health, fitness, and weight management. Cardio + strength, nothing better than that!
Myth 6: "You can't build muscle without supplements"
While supplements can aid in muscle recovery and growth, they are not the be-all end-all for building muscle.
A well-balanced diet and a consistent workout routine provide the essential nutrients and stimulus for muscle development. Supplements can be beneficial, sure, but they should complement, not replace.
Myth 7: "Muscle turns into fat when you stop exercising"
First things first, this myth implies a transformation between two distinct tissues, which is biologically impossible.
Muscle and fat are separate tissues with different structures and functions. When someone stops exercising, they may experience muscle atrophy (reduction in size) and potentially gain fat if dietary habits and overall activity levels are not maintained.
Tips for building and maintaining muscle
For those seeking to boost their muscle mass, incorporating practical tips into your routine can be transformative. Here are four areas to really focus on:
- Resistance training: Incorporate regular resistance training exercises into your routine, focusing on compound movements that engage multiple muscle groups.
This could include weightlifting, bodyweight exercises, resistance band workouts, and many more.
- Diet: Ensure that your diet contains an adequate amount of protein to promote muscle growth. Incorporate lean protein sources like chicken, fish, beans, and legumes.
Alongside protein, ensure a well-rounded diet with sufficient carbohydrates and healthy fats. A balanced nutrition plan supports overall health and provides the energy needed for effective workouts.
- Rest and recovery: Prioritize rest and recovery as essential components of your muscle-building journey. While exercise stimulates muscle growth, adequate rest allows your body to adapt and become stronger. Incorporate rest days into your routine, ensuring a balance between exercise and recovery.
- Hydration: Maintain proper hydration levels, as water plays a crucial role in various physiological processes, including muscle function and recovery.
Building and maintaining muscle is not a pursuit confined to gym enthusiasts or bodybuilders; it’s a scientifically supported strategy for promoting healthy aging, enhancing metabolism, and improving overall well-being.
By incorporating practical tips into daily life, such as focused exercise routines, a protein-rich diet, and adequate rest, you can harness the science-backed benefits of building and maintaining muscle for a healthier, more functional future. Forget the myths. Muscle is important for you, no matter your goals or health status.
Invested in this muscle topic and want to learn more? Make sure to tune in to This One Life’s Episode #12, “Deutschland braucht mehr Muskeln," with Professor Dr. Ingo Froböse to gain further expert insights and advice.
- Angulo, J. et al. (2020) Physical activity and exercise: Strategies to manage frailty, Redox biology. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7284931/
- E;, Z.F.K.C. Skeletal muscle metabolism is a major determinant of resting energy expenditure, The Journal of clinical investigation. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2243122/
- Akhtar, M.W., Karimi, H. and Gilani, S.A. (2017) Effectiveness of core stabilization exercises and routine exercise therapy in management of pain in chronic non-specific low back pain: A randomized controlled clinical trial, Pakistan journal of medical sciences. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5648929/
- Mayer, F. et al. (2011) The intensity and effects of strength training in the elderly, Deutsches Ärzteblatt international. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3117172/