Strong muscles = longer, healthier life

I have started—and abandoned—a multitude of exercise programs over my life. I even wore the leg warmers and headband to do aerobics. I sweated to the oldies with Richard Simmons. I joined gyms, going from weight machine to weight machine and recording the number of repetitions on a little index card. And time and again, I heard that women shouldn’t do heavier weights because, God forbid, we didn’t want to end up with big manly muscles, did we? The mantra was very little weight, lots and lots of reps. Women were also encouraged to bike and swim to stay in (feminine) shape.

Unfortunately, that advice was mostly incorrect. While a woman may gain some muscle definition with weightlifting, it is very hard for women to get unusually large muscles because of their physiology. Aerobic activity, like biking and swimming, are great for your heart, they aren’t the best for building muscle and bone. Lots of reps with light weights are also beneficial and burn a few calories, but not the best for improvements in strength. And the older we get, the more we need muscle, but the older we get, the harder it is to build muscle.


Importance of muscle

Muscle is important for many reasons. At rest, muscle tissue burns far more calories than fat. Therefore, a 140-lb. woman with a lot of muscle can eat more food without gaining weight compared to other women. This specialized tissue helps support our frame and protects our joints. If you have a bad back, work on your abdominal muscles. Although it sounds counterintuitive, your abdominals help support your back and posture. Strength is necessary for balance and muscle cushions us if we fall. Muscles help prevent broken bones, like ankles. And legs. And most important of all, hips.

Muscle growth is influenced by hormones, and hormones are influenced by age. Muscle growth is especially influenced by testosterone, which diminishes in both women and men as they get older.

If you want stronger muscles and bones, they have to push against resistance. Lifting a 10-lb. weight does that for your arm muscles and bones. Walking is pushing against your weight and gravity, and helps build leg muscle and bone. You are never too old to begin using weights and weighted resistance (like kettlebells or farmer’s carry) to build your muscles and to reap the benefits of a healthier life.

In fact, muscle mass is also correlated with longevity. Research has shown that older people within the top 25 percent for muscle mass had a significantly lower total mortality risk (40.8 percent) than those in the lowest 25 percent, which had a mortality risk of 58.0 percent. Interestingly, the mortality risk associated with non-muscle mass index was virtually the same between all of the quartiles. This point further demonstrates the importance of muscle mass.


Nutrients make a difference

The other part of the muscle building equation is the use of nutrients to provide raw materials and other supplements that can support healthy muscle development.

During the aging process, proteins within the body begin to break down. Without a constant rebuilding of these proteins, muscle gradually deteriorates. One study demonstrated that people aged 60 to 74 years old have a 19 percent lower protein synthesis rate than people aged 19 to 38 years old.

This means an older adult may need even more protein support to make more muscle. In addition to a healthy diet, protein powders can be very helpful. Protein powders are not just for bodybuilders anymore!


Lots of protein products

There are a variety of protein supplements, all with specific pros and cons. Pea protein is vegetarian, but unless it is blended with other vegetarian proteins containing complementary amino acids, it is not a complete protein. Egg protein is a high-quality complete protein, but it is often quite expensive and egg allergies are not uncommon. Whey protein is probably the best known and is a complete protein. It is generally lactose free, so digestion is not usually an issue. Whey protein and other foods with essential amino acids (EAAs) help stimulate one of the major pathways that regulates how much muscle we make.


Active glutathione

Another interesting recommendation for any muscle and strength building program is reduced (active) glutathione. A scientific study showed that depletion in this key nutrient can cause muscle cells to go down an apoptotic (cell death) pathway. As one of our body’s most important antioxidants (which also decreases with age), glutathione is necessary for muscle maintenance as we age. Since glutathione is converted in the digestion process to the oxidized (inactive) form, which is not very helpful, it is important to only use a glutathione that has clinical proof it raises active levels in the bloodstream. Many do not have that validation.

Other options are to use IV infusions of glutathione (which gets very expensive) or use a glutathione precursor like N-acetylcysteine (NAC). However, the older you get, and in the presence of certain diseases and genetic predispositions, the less able your body is to use NAC to boost glutathione. Therefore, I only recommend NAC to younger, healthier people. Otherwise, active glutathione is a much better bet.

Curcumin and boswellia

Another great nutrient that helps protect muscles during exercise is curcumin. While previously thought to work primarily as an antioxidant and prevent oxidative damage, new ways are being discovered that curcumin can modulate muscle damage. Curcumin has also been shown to aid in muscle recovery after exercise.

An enhanced absorption curcumin with turmeric essential oil was also shown to reduce pain and improve activity tolerance in people with rheumatoid arthritis, and important consideration for encouraging muscle-building exercise in this population.

Arthritis can interfere with efforts to exercise and build muscle. In a published, human study, enhanced absorption curcumin with turmeric essential oil and a uniquely standardized boswellia were shown to decrease pain and increase mobility in people with osteoarthritis better than the prescription drug celecoxib (one brand name is Celebrex).

There are many other nutrients that can play a role in muscle development, including adequate iron and B-vitamin levels, plant silica for collagen production, and fructoborate and DIM (diindolylmethane) to nudge up testosterone activity, to name a few. But the first step is recognizing the importance of more muscle as we age, and taking the first steps toward that goal. VR


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