How Skeletal Muscle Helps You Become Your Healthiest SelfJan 08, 2024
How You Can Use Skeletal Muscle to Become Your Healthiest Self
We live during a time where there is an over-emphasis placed on fat loss and an under-emphasis on building muscle. The focus is on what you should LOSE as opposed to seeing what you can GAIN. When you go to the doctor they take your weight and depending on what they see may tell you to lose weight for your health. But when was the last time they tested to see how much muscle you had to the health of that skeletal muscle? I'm not a doctor and I can't say 100% for certain what you talk about with yours, but I have never been asked this questions or tested for this. If we switched the focus to what you could gain in your life with more skeletal muscle mass, I believe the health of our society would look MUCH different.
In this post I'm going to cover some of 7 benefits to building skeletal muscle and towards the end I will give you guidance on what you can do.
1: Decreased Risk of Falls
As you get older, balance and coordination wanes if you are not proactive about preventing this. You may think this is not a priority at the moment, but it’s best to prioritize this as it becomes progressively more difficult to build muscle as you age (starting in late 20s/early 30s). Sadly, most older ones who fall never walk again. But much of this could have been prevented if skeletal muscle via weightlifting was prioritized.
2: Increased Bone Density
Weightlifting does not just tell your muscles to get stronger, it tells your bones to become stronger too. Conditions like osteoporosis and osteopenia (spongey bones due to loss of bone mass and mineral density) happen when the bones think they don’t need to be strong due to not having a stimulus to do so. When you perform weight bearing activities (like weightlifting) your bones know they need to remain strong and dense.
If you currently are dealing with low bone density you should NOT jump into a heavy weight bearing routine, but gradually work your way up with a doctor’s approval and professional guidance from a fitness professional.
3: Improves Mental Health
When you contract skeletal muscle, muscle tissue releases hormone-like proteins called myokines. Myokines improve your sense of wellbeing and capacity to learn! During exercise there are specific myokines released that cross the blood-brain barrier where they stimulate the production of BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor), which begins the creation of new neurons to facilitate learning and memory. Increased levels of BDNF are correlated to decreased risk of mood disorders and an increased volume of the hippocampus (part of the brain that faciliates learning, memory, and spatial awareness.) This means lower risk of psychological conditions like Alzheimers and Dementia.
4: Blood Sugar Regulation
Having more skeletal muscle means better blood sugar regulation. It not only helps by increasing necessary glucose stores, but also synthesize glucose when needed. This means more skeletal muscle helps your body stay in homeostasis.
If you consume more glucose than necessary for your body, where does it go? Glucose is stored in your liver and skeletal muscle. Last time I checked you can’t grow your liver glucose stores but you CAN grow your skeletal muscle. Even the simple act of contracting your muscles starts a chain reaction which results in metabolizing glucose WITHOUT INSULIN.
But skeletal msucle can also generate glucose when blood sugar is low. If blood sugar ever gets too low, skeletal muscle releases an amino acid that allow the liver to synthesize into glucose. So yes, the liver creates it but it would be impossible without the skeletal muscle!
If you are pre-diabetic, have type 2 diabetes, want to prevent either of those, or just have stable energy, you need to build muscle.
5: Increased Survivability
Skeletal muscle is a like a storage warehouse for amino acids. When you get sick or injured, your body pulls from these stores to repair and protect itself. When you are sick or need to heal from an injury, your protein (amino acid) requirements FLY through the roof in order to heal. While it is possible to consume what you may need, are you really going to do that? I know I don’t feel like eating that much when I’m sick and have barely get in my protein requirements as is. Higher skeletal muscle mass is correlated to a higher survivability rate of nearly ALL diseases (and some cancers) in part due to the fact that your body is able to pull from these amino acid stores.
Build muscle and live longer!
6: More Energy
Your body is insanely smart and makes any and all adaptions you tell it to. When you exercise regularly you are telling your body that it needs to be able to generate more energy. But where is energy made? In your mitochondria. So what does it make more of? MITOCHONDRIA. When you exercise regularly your body increases the mitochondrial density within the muscle! This is important to understand because your body doesn’t just need food for energy. It needs to be able to convert it. This means outside of exercise you will have more energy but only if you have sufficient skeletal muscle.
7: Raises Metabolism
Building muscle is often marketed as a fat loss tool since muscle is more metabolic than fat. While yes, muscle is more metabolic, it’s not THAT much more. If you gained an additional 22lb of muscle mass you’re only going to burn an extra 100 cals/day at rest. The fastest a woman could make this happen is in 11 months. So let’s not get ahead of ourselves. That being said, muscle is beneficial for your metabolism in another way: it boosts your metabolism by using energy for protein turnover (the continuous renewal and replacement of protein. Muscle is also one of the largest sites for fat metabolism. At rest, skeletal muscle uses primarily fat as fuel. This is beneficial because fat can also be stored within the muscle tissue (know as IMAT) and is highly correlated to stroke, spinal cord injuries, diabetes, and COPD.
What Should You Do Now?
Building muscle is not complicated, but there are lots of ways to make it complicated and extraordinarily difficult if you don't know what to avoid and what to prioritize. I created a masterclass, "Everything You Need to Know About Weightlifting (before you start weightlifting)." This class is especially for beginners who want to avoid all the most common beginner mistakes that lead to staying beginners and ultimately leading to lots of discouragement.
After this class you you're going to:
- be able to identify exercises that are worth your time (build muscle faster) and which ones aren't.
- be able to workout the same amount (or less) and see crazy fast progress
- know how to figure out how much weight to lift for each movement
- know which aspects of form matter and which ones don't
- know pre and post workout snacks that give you the perfect amount of fuel and leave you feeling well-nourished
You don't deserve to start (or continue) your fitness journey guessing, hoping, and trying.
You deserve proven strategies that yield results (more muscle and a healthier life!)
To learn more about this topic you can also tune into S5|E02 of Fitness Beyond Aesthetics linked HERE.
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