The importance of building lean muscle mass as we age

The importance of building lean muscle mass as we age


By: Dr. Rachelle Viinberg, ND

Lean muscle mass has incredible benefits, and is a fundamental factor in anti-aging medicine. However, maintaining lean muscle mass can be a challenge. Beginning in our mid-forties, we begin to lose muscle and progressively accumulate fat mass. Between the ages of 40-60, the average fat gain is about 1 pound per year, and loss of muscle is 1/2 pound per year. Once we reach age 75, 50% of muscle mass can be gone! This loss has profound effects on our health, including obesity, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, insulin resistance, diabetes, increased chance of falling, lowered bone density, chronic inflammation, and even can predispose us to certain cancers. Below are the five main benefits resistance training can support healthy aging.

1. Increases metabolism and prevents obesity

More lean muscle mass means that you burn more calories at rest, and decreases excessive fat accumulation. Many people go on severely restricted diets, which can actually cause people to lose muscle mass and compromise metabolism. A healthier and more effective approach would be to have a balanced diet with focus on resistance training.

2. Prevents insulin resistance and cardiovascular disease

Muscle mass makes your cells more sensitive to insulin. Without insulin, glucose cannot get into our cells for energy and high blood sugar ensues. This can have a host of adverse consequences, including diabetes. Increased muscle mass can also improve lipid levels, and provide better profusion in our vasculature, which are major components of a healthy cardiovascular system.

3. Maintains bone density and increases strength

Greater muscle mass is a predictor of better bone health in older adults, and can decrease a chance of a fall. Muscle contraction creates a force on the bone, which stimulates healthy bone remodeling. Not surprisingly, reduced lean muscle mass (especially in the lower-leg muscles) is associated with poor balance and an increased risk of falls and fractures. Note that a hip fracture is associated with a high risk of death during the first year post-fracture, and also increases the risk of mortality for up to 10 years.

4. Can help with chronic pain

Strength training can even help with pain reduction. Clinical studies in patients with fibromyalgia, back pain, neck pain, and joint pain consistently support strength training as an effective pain reliever.

Pain reduction is a common and powerful side effect of gaining strength around a joint complex and the spine, reducing pain sensitivity, and reducing overall inflammation.

5. Supports mental health

Researchers have found low muscle mass can be directly correlated with severity of anxiety, depression, and cognitive decline. Once a strength training program was implemented, subjects across all studies improved in all mental parameters - including self

confidence, depression, and anxiety. One reason for this is the lowered burden of oxidative stress and inflammation, which can cross the blood brain barrier. Additional reasons may be increased blood perfusion, a regular routine, and hormonal modulation.

As we can see, focusing on lean muscle mass can have a profound effect on metabolic aging. Although cardiovascular exercises like walking, running, and cycling have many health benefits - they are not major promoters of putting on lean muscle mass. Lifting heavy things on a regular basis, as well as a balanced diet with adequate micronutrients and protein are the best practice, and can produce substantial results.

Disclaimer: This information is for educational purposes only, and does not substitute professional medical advice or consultations with healthcare professionals. Medications and various diagnoses need to be properly evaluated by a healthcare professional before incorporating any supplementation.