Muscles Influence our Health and Disease
“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health”.
Hippocrates (c. 460 BC – c.370 BC)
Muscle plays key roles in the body beyond the obvious ones like helping us stand erect and move; just as fat stores extra calories for energy reserves, muscle serves as an emergency supply of the amino acids we need to build tissues and biological substances. The body doesn’t store amino acids as it does fat and carbs; if there’s not enough coming in from the diet, the body will take them from its own tissue by breaking down its protein sources, usually muscle. Loss of muscle mass can ultimately contribute to loss of life.
Contrary to what you might think, recovering from illness or trauma relies a lot on muscle mass, muscle strength, and muscle function. Multiple studies have demonstrated that muscle mass and strength factor into how long it takes to recuperate from illness or injury. The less muscle mass and strength before, the longer to return to a normal life.
While it’s common knowledge now that chronic diseases related to poor lifestyle account for many deaths in the United States, it’s not widely understood that changes in muscle play an important role in the progression of most conditions. Take, for example, the damaging effects of advanced heart disease and cancer. Both of these illnesses are often associated with rapid loss of muscle mass and metabolic function, and survival can often depend on the extent of muscle loss.
Because aging involves a gradual muscle loss over time that speeds up as one gets older, there’s a relationship between the state of one’s muscle mass and length of life. The progressive loss of muscle mass and function that typically occurs with aging is called sarcopenia, and it can erode one’s quality of life over time. Imagine not being able to do basic activities like getting out of bed, walking, feeding yourself, or using and moving your body to take care of yourself. A devastating loss of muscle mass can lead to such an outcome. Muscle mass and strength are key elements to survival, arguably as fundamental as oxygen and water, food and sleep. And losing them isn’t inevitable! Senility tends to occur related to “Disuse Atrophy”.
A question that science has been trying to answer is what the perfect dose of exercise should be. So many things in health and medicine come with dosing instructions, but not exercise. And even though we’re told to spend at least 150 minutes engaged in moderate exercise per week, that guideline is so broad as to be meaningless to most people. Exercise has had a “Goldilocks problem,” with experts wrestling with finding the line between too much and too little.
Although the sweet spot for any individual will be different, the data from two recent large-scale studies suggests that, generally speaking, the ideal amount of exercise for a long life is a little more than what many of us think, but we don’t have to run marathons. And if we do like to take exercise to extremes, the latest research also shows that intense or prolonged exercise is not likely to be harmful, as long as injury is avoided, and could extend people’s lives by years.
The optimal amount of time, however, to gain the most benefits was found to be 450 minutes per week, which is a little more than an hour a day. According to the data, the people who tripled the recommended level of exercise were 39 percent less likely to meet an early death than people who never exercised. And they weren’t spending this time running at full speed but were working out moderately, on a consistent basis. The few people who took their exercise time to extremes, at least ten times the 150-minute recommendation, enjoyed roughly the same reduction in mortality risk as those who simply met the guidelines. What probably surprised the researchers is that adding intensity—but not necessarily more time sweating—conferred substantial benefits. The people who spent up to 30 percent of their weekly workouts in strenuous activities were 9 percent less likely to die sooner than expected as compared to those who exercised for the same amount of time with no vigorous activity. And those who engaged in strenuous activities for more than 30 percent of their exercise time earned an extra 13 percent reduction in early death, compared with the group who had no vigorous activity.
In general, moderate regular exercise including aerobic and strength training, was associated with the best results for longevity and health. The integrated exercise programs offered by Elite Fitness Plus are excellent to empower these goals.
Paul R. Block, MD, FACP, FCCP