For most of us, time in the gym is centered around two key factors. We want to live a long healthy life free of disease and we want to enjoy every minute of it with as few limitations as possible. We look at these as the concepts of Lifespan (a long healthy life) and Healthspan (a life free from limitations and pain). And in both instances, muscle is one of the key organs to support our goals, largely for the significant impacts muscle has on our metabolic health. How well (or not) we metabolize the food we eat impacts nearly every system in the body.
Whether your goal is to build or maintain muscle, the following components are important at any age, but get all the more critical as we age.
1. You need to strength train: Strength training is deceptively simple in theory but can take lots of work and sophistication in practice. Following a regular program focused on progressive overloading your muscles 2-3 times per week is key. Sounds simple enough, but the real difficulty comes from consistently showing up as well as knowing when it’s time to change the workouts themselves, making them harder and varied as you get stronger.
2. You need to eat enough protein: Protein is needed to actually give your body the bricks it needs to build your body after strength training. The recommended daily minimum is to eat 0.8 grams (g) of protein per kilogram (kg) of bodyweight per day. However, current research suggests that the ideal range to prevent age-related muscle loss is 1.2-1.6 g of protein per day per kg of body weight if you are regularly strength training. Doing the math, if you weighed 150 lbs, or 68 kg, then the minimum you should be eating each day is 54 g but it would be optimal to eat 81-109 g of protein per day.
Sounds simple enough, right? Then why is muscle so important to so many different systems in the body? Read on to find out more!
When most of us think about metabolism, we think of the amount of calories we burn in a day. More specifically, what’s called the Total Daily Energy Expenditure (TDEE). TDEE can be summarized as the amount of calories we need in a day to maintain our bodies in both terms of function and physical activity. Increasing muscle mass is often one of the first strategies people implement in terms of increasing their TDEE. 1 lb of muscle burns around 6 calories per day. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolism and the easier it is to maintain a healthy body weight and bone density.
Another critical benefit is blood glucose management and insulin sensitivity. Most simply put, blood glucose is used as an energy source for our nerves, muscles, and organs. When our muscles are stronger and work more regularly, they process more glucose naturally. So it makes sense that having more skeletal muscle is a key component of keeping blood sugar balanced.
However, our bodies cannot effectively use glucose without insulin. Insulin is a hormone that stimulates the cells in muscles, to uptake glucose to be used for energy later. A combination of additional muscle tissue and the act of exercise can be used as a means to increase insulin sensitivity. Increased insulin sensitivity simply means that when you eat carbohydrate the insulin your cells release helps your muscles to “take up” that glucose more quickly and efficiently. On the other hand, being insulin resistant means that your body releases insulin but the cells do not respond by taking up the glucose as efficiently, leaving a person with high insulin and high blood glucose. Poor glucose management can lead to fatigue, lack of focus and a host of metabolic stressors detrimental to overall health.
One of the main reasons why the average person would be concerned with blood glucose is that overly high levels can lead to becoming pre-diabetic, a condition where your blood sugar levels are high enough to put you at risk for developing Type-2 diabetes. Pre-diabetes is more prevalent than you might think.
In 2019 the CDC released data indicating that 38.0% of all US adults had pre-diabetes, based on their fasting glucose or A1C level (5.7-6.4). Of these people, only 19.0% of adults with pre-diabetes reported being told by a health professional that they had this condition.
What does this mean for you? It’s a good idea to know your A1C. And it’s also a good idea to be informed about what this metric means and how it can impact your overall health risks. Diet and exercise are two key ways you can ensure your A1C stays within normal ranges. Long term research has shown that when examining the level of muscular strength between different people, participants who have moderate to high levels of strength have a 32% lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes when compared to people with lower levels of strength.
How strong do you need to be to see benefits?
Research points out that there is not a profound difference found between people of moderate versus high strength. This means that while it is important to get fit and build muscle, you don’t need to go overboard. You don’t need to be able to bench press your bodyweight or flex your muscles like a bodybuilder in order to be healthy. That being said, it is important to incorporate appropriate and challenging weights specific to each individual. Lifting heavy enough weights is an important component to maintaining skeletal muscle. Following a smart program including progressive overload (not repeating the same workout over and over) can ensure skeletal muscle is maintained and increased.
Age related sarcopenia is the natural decline of muscle mass as we age. The human body will lose 30% of its peak muscle mass by age 70 if left to its own devices. Strength training combats this loss, not only helping to prevent structural injuries and loss of bone density but it keeps us metabolically healthy as well.
Muscle matters, a lot.
All told, we like to see people doing strength training twice per week minimum, with a slight increase as we get older. Strength training doesn’t have to be long or necessarily intense, but it needs to build functional strength and muscle mass. In order to do so, it needs to be structured, consistent and progressively getting harder over time (as you get stronger). Because of the many systems in the body that muscle impacts, we’d go so far as saying it’s the most important thing you can do to help improve both your Lifespan and Healthspan.
How can we help you? We work with clients of all types to define and achieve their health goals through the power of strength training. Interested in learning more? Let’s talk training!
Author Travis Robe, CSCS, is a Personal Trainer at Hyatt Training with a BA in Kinesiology. In addition to his experience with strength training, he is also a lifelong martial artist. He believes in using fitness as a way to build discipline and confidence to overcome any challenge life may present you. Learn more about Travis, or get in touch with him by emailing us at Go@HyattTraining.com.
Get more fitness tips
Sign up for our e-newsletter and get more workout ideas and personal trainer tips in your inbox!
American Diabetes Association. (n.d.). Blood sugar and exercise. Blood Sugar and Exercise | ADA. Retrieved August 22, 2022, from https://diabetes.org/healthy-living/fitness/getting-started-safely/blood-glucose-and-exercise
Bollinger, Lance MA, ACSM-CES, NSCA-CSCS1; LaFontaine, Tom PhD, ACSM-RCEP, NSCA-CPT2. Exercise Programming for Insulin Resistance. Strength and Conditioning Journal: October 2011 – Volume 33 – Issue 5 – p 44-47 doi: 10.1519/SSC.0b013e31822599fb
Coleman, S. K., Rebalka, I. A., D’Souza, D. M., & Hawke, T. J. (2015). Skeletal muscle as a therapeutic target for delaying type 1 diabetic complications. World journal of diabetes, 6(17), 1323–1336. https://doi.org/10.4239/wjd.v6.i17.1323
Evans, P. L., McMillin, S. L., Weyrauch, L. A., & Witczak, C. A. (2019). Regulation of Skeletal Muscle Glucose Transport and Glucose Metabolism by Exercise Training. Nutrients, 11(10), 2432. https://doi.org/10.3390/nu11102432
Haff, G. G., &; Triplett, N. T. (2016). Essentials of strength training and conditioning. Human Kinetics.
Harvard Health Publishing. (2021, November 11). Age and Muscle Loss. Harvard Health. Retrieved August 23, 2022, from https://www.health.harvard.edu/exercise-and-fitness/age-and-muscle-loss
Riddell, M. C., Gallen, I. W., Smart, C. E., Taplin, C. E., Adolfsson, P., Lumb, A. N., Kowalski, A., Rabasa-Lhoret, R., McCrimmon, R. J., Hume, C., Annan, F., Fournier, P. A., Graham, C., Bode, B., Galassetti, P., Jones, T. W., Millán, I. S., Heise, T., Peters, A. L., … Laffel, L. M. (2017). Exercise management in type 1 diabetes: A consensus statement. The Lancet Diabetes & Endocrinology, 5(5), 377–390. https://doi.org/10.1016/s2213-8587(17)30014-1
Robert R Wolfe, The underappreciated role of muscle in health and disease, The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 84, Issue 3, December 2006, Pages 475–482, https://doi.org/10.1093/ajcn/84.3.475
Thompson, J., & Manore, M. M. (2012). Nutrition: An Applied Approach (3rd ed.). Pearson.
Wang, Z., Ying, Z., Bosy-Westphal, A., Zhang, J., Heller, M., Later, W., Heymsfield, S. B., & Müller, M. J. (2011). Evaluation of specific metabolic rates of major organs and tissues: comparison between men and women. American journal of human biology : the official journal of the Human Biology Council, 23(3), 333–338. https://doi.org/10.1002/ajhb.21137