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Importance of Maintaining Muscle Mass


ISSUE: After the age of 40, muscle size declines by 1-2% per year, with the lower body losing faster than the upper body. With less overall muscle mass, our resting metabolic rate - which burns energy (calories) when we're sitting and even sleeping - decreases as well. Related to the loss of muscle mass we have less strength, less power, less endurance, and burn fat less efficiently. Also, our performance declines for sports and normal activities of daily living.

SOLUTION: Weight training will restore muscle size, strength, and if done in specific ways, will restore power too.

  • Choose heavy enough weights. New weightlifters and women often opt for lighter weights. It is necessary to lift >50% of our 1RM (one rep max) in order to increase muscle mass.

  • How much protein? Most North American diets already provide sufficient amounts of protein to support muscle growth. The key is to take in a meal or snack with protein within one hour of lifting.

  • Machines, free weights, or on an unstable surface? Using machines to lift weights are advised for newer weightlifters to assist with safety and support. However, once neural pathways and strength have been built, using free weights will provide more natural functional movements and also recruit the core muscles. However, lifting weights while standing on a BOSU or other unstable surface will recruit even more core muscles but will also decrease how heavy of a weight you can lift, and therefore is not as ideal when trying to build muscle.

  • Strength vs Endurance. Lift heavier weights, but do lower reps to build strength. Lift lighter weights, and do higher reps to build endurance.

  • Power is more functional than just strength. Do squat jumps, box jumps, and push-ups with feet on a gym ball. Having power aids with walking up and down stairs, doing household chores, and getting in and out of chairs easier.

  • Do cardio workouts. Whether for health or performance, aerobic fitness - which is a measure of extracting oxygen from blood to use in muscles (VO2max) - is the best predictor for finishing position in endurance events.

BENEFITS: Building strength is the result of increasing the size of muscle fibers, and improving neural pathways so that commands from the brain are executed more efficiently. The neural pathways improve strength immediately with the very first workout. Noticeable muscle hypertrophy (size) follows after 6 months or more of training for the average person. However, for those doing intense weightlifting - lifting very heavy weights four times per week - measurable changes of increased strength occur after 2 months, and measurable changes of muscle size occurs after 3 months. Benefits of strength training include:

  • Moving well means you are likely to take the stairs and burn more calories throughout the day.

  • Burn more fat vs. carbs:

  • We get more "after burn" with weightlifting vs. after cardio activity. While we burn more carbs during a cardio workout vs during a weightlifting workout, we burn more calories after a weightlifting workout due to the increased metabolic rate that occurs.

  • Combining cardio and weight training is best to decrease surface fat and abdominal fat, and to increase muscle mass. Do 3 days each per week.

  • Takes glucose from the bloodstream, and stores it as glycogen in muscles. This stimulates insulin receptor sensitivity and lessens our risk of developing diabetes.

  • Helps control high blood pressure.

  • Helps control depression.

  • Makes bones stronger.

Whether you're after health, performance, or maintaining the quality of your daily life, you need to spend a bit of time on strength training in addition to cardio workouts, especially as we age.

Hutchinson, Alex, Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights?, 2011.

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