Our bodies are composed of water, tissue, bone, muscle and fat. The composition varies slightly by gender, age and genetics. Every person has the capacity to burn fat and build muscle. The amount lost or retained depends on our gender, age, genetics and lifestyle. The scale (our weight) tells us nothing of our composition and is misleading when it comes to our overall health.
Weight loss and weighing less are misleading goals for health promotion. Yes, having less body fat leads to a healthier body. The problem is that weight loss includes losing muscle along with fat. We are focused on losing weight when we should focus on gaining weight. Gaining muscle weight and burning fat, that is. Muscle mass weighs eight times that of fat mass. As you build muscle you will gain ‘weight’ even as you burn fat.
Losing muscle mass leads to an increase in stored body fat and a reduction in circulatory function. Muscle movements help push fluids through the circulatory system. Muscles also consume large amounts of energy to maintain their mass and strength. The less muscle mass you have the fewer calories you burn at rest; the fewer calories you can consume daily. The lower the amount of skeletal muscle the lower the function of the circulatory system, including the heart.
When we cut calories or certain foods (diet) or submit ourselves to an excess of aerobic activity we are only losing/burning calories. Aerobics in moderation do have their place in heart and circulatory health. Too much aerobic activity leads to muscle atrophy and joint instability with overuse. The muscles are usable calories (muscle glycogen becomes glucose) and are easily broken down to fuel aerobic activity. We weigh less because we are losing muscle and fat mass.
Fast aerobic activity must be balanced with slower strength training activities to ensure the body maintains necessary muscle mass and joint stability for daily function as we age. Slower controlled movements during exercise increase the strength and stability of the joint. Reducing the speed and amount of movement on the joints allows them to last longer for us, reducing the need for reconstruction or replacement surgery.
Avoiding hard jarring movements in fast aerobic movements is essential to maintaining joint integrity. Every hard or rapid downward motion on the joint and body affects fascial and ligament connections, joint strength and intestinal flow. Instead of running try walking with weight, cycling or rowing. Instead of Body Pump try strength training or weightlifting. Instead of Step Class try Tai Chi Flow or Power Yoga. Instead of only walking, add seated weightlifting.
Aerobic activity combined with strength training in a weekly exercise routine increases muscle mass and fat burning capability more effectively than aerobic activity alone. Combining the two provides the body with the opportunity to increase skeletal muscle strength and density while improving cardiac muscle strength. Exposing the body to multiple types of physical activity is best for maintaining overall function throughout life.
Benefits of Increasing Muscle Mass at Any Age: these are the benefits of gaining muscle mass without dieting or restricting your eating. Therefore, we must consider that weighing more can be healthy.
- Enhances your level of functional fitness: Your muscles play a key role in determining whether you can perform the activities of daily living at home, work, and play. Accordingly, the higher your level of muscular fitness, the more likely you will be able to do the tasks in your life without undue fatigue or risk of injury
- Facilitates your efforts to control your fat mass: The amount of lean muscle mass you have helps to determine your resting metabolic rate, which in turn significantly affects the number of calories you burn. All factors considered, the more muscle you have, the easier it is to keep your body fat within a desirable range.
- Promotes bone health: Strength training not only makes your muscles stronger, it makes your bones stronger. Performed over an extended time, strength training has been found to increase bone density. Accordingly, proper strength training will help to lower your risk of bone loss. Increasing bone density also increases overall bodyweight.
- Reduces your chances of sustaining both muscular and skeletal injuries: It is estimated that a significant number of various injuries that occur in physical activity could be prevented through a higher level of muscular fitness. Strength training can be viewed as a relatively effective and inexpensive form of personal health insurance.
- Slows down the so-called aging process: Strength training enhances the ability of older adults to perform the daily tasks associated with independent living. Proper strength training can have an invaluable impact on helping senior citizens maintain their independence and personal dignity.
- Decreases the relative muscular demands of specific tasks: Every physical activity requires a certain percentage of an individual’s maximal level of muscular strength. For individuals who become stronger through strength training, common activities of daily living (e.g. carrying groceries, shoveling snow, lifting small children) require less effort and are easier to perform.
- Helps treat and prevent lower back pain: Proper strength training can help reduce the incidence and severity of lower back pain by strengthening both your abdominal and lower back muscles. By enhancing your postural stability, keeping these muscles strong can help prevent undue load forces from being placed on your spine.
- Enhances your appearance: The “fit, healthy” look is a matter of muscle tone, and an improved level of muscle tone is a by-product of proper strength training. Fortunately, substantial changes in the level of strength and tone of a muscle can occur in a relatively short period.
- Improves sport performance: Strength training has been shown to enhance an individual’s ability to perform a variety of skills. A higher level of muscular fitness affects not only your capacity to perform a specific task, but also your ability to continue to perform that task at an acceptable level over an extended period.
- Improves psychological wellbeing: Strength training has been found to have a positive impact on your level of anxiety, depression, and self-esteem. Accordingly, strength training can have a meaningful effect on the various facets of the mind-body connection.
Benefits of Losing Body Fat by Increasing Muscle Mass Instead of Dieting:
- Improves overall physical fitness
- Lower risk of cardiopulmonary and heart disease
- Reduce strain on blood vessels, increases blood flow to the brain and boost overall brain function (improves memory, concentration, and problem solving skills)
- Lowers digestive and immune system stress, improves mental health
- Lower risk for other conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cancer
- Lower “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, increase “good” HDL cholesterol levels, and manage high blood pressure
- Keeps the body warmer in colder seasons and climates with better circulation
- Ensures the body continues to get proper nutrition without restrictive dieting
In the end, we see that losing weight should not be our focus for maintaining physical health throughout aging. Gaining or maintaining muscle mass through regular resistive activity is essential to maintaining self-reliance and health into old age. Resistive activities are essential for maintaining circulatory function, bone density and joint function throughout life.