Benefits of Muscle

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Strength & Conditioning

Benefits of Muscle

The advantages of maintaining an optimal amount of muscle mass are many. Consider everything one does throughout the day, from opening a jar to carrying travel luggage. What do you need help with? Could you do this yourself if only you had more strength? What could become easier and less exhausting?

Blood pressure: A study concluded that weight training does not exacerbate resting or exercise blood pressure. It also showed beneficial effects for people with borderline hypertension, such as improved strength, body composition and aerobic capacity.

Body fat release: Hormone-sensitive lipase helps mobilize body fat. When epinephrine is also present, hormone-sensitive lipase will use fatty acids for emergency energy. When insulin is also present instead, hormone-sensitive lipase is inhibited in its action. During high-intensity strength training, epinephrine creates an amplification cascade of hormone-sensitive lipase, which releases fatty acids from fat cells, and start the fat-utilization process.

Bone mineral density: A study found bone mineral density increased locally, notably in the femoral neck, after strength training.

Cardiovascular stimulation: Cardiovascular health is the ability of the heart, lungs and bloodstream to supply the muscles. Strength training has been found to reduce resting blood pressure and to lower rate pressure product during simulated common carrying activities.

Cholesterol levels: Studies suggest that high-intensity strength training improves blood lipid profiles in middle-aged men, which is thought to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.

Flexibility: When performing strength training properly, you’ll go through the full range of motion during exercises. This will go a long way to improve your flexibility. When properly implemented for safety and ability, some joints may improve or increase the range of motion of that joint, while other joints may decrease in range of motion. For example, problems with the shoulder joint may come from excessive flexibility. Strength training and development of the surrounding tissues may diminish the shoulder’s range of motion, but this is protective for the joint.

Gastrointestinal transit time: A slow gastrointestinal transit time has been associated with a higher prevalence of colon cancer, hemorrhoids, diverticulosis or constipation. These disorders happen more often with age. One study suggests that strength training can increase this transit time in older men. It is possible that the quicker transit time also lowers the risk of these disorders. It appears that strength training is also affecting the muscles that help clear the intestines. This goes hand-in-hand with the intestinal cell lining’s ability to turn over every 24-48 hours, as it regenerates and clears waste.

Glucose metabolism: At a certain point glucose is poisonous to the cell, instead of being there in sufficient quantity to be processed for energy. High levels of glucose in the blood and high insulin levels are associated with diabetes. One study reports that strength training improves glucose metabolism.

Insulin sensitivity: Muscle is one place where glucose gets stored. This makes sense, as you’d want some energy close by that you can use quickly in times of need, whether it is a life-threatening situation or a competition. If this storage of glucose doesn’t get emptied from time to time then it will sit there and the insulin receptor will become less sensitive. But fat cells remain sensitive for longer. As you keep eating sugars (all kinds), these can no longer be stored in muscle, and you don’t want to poison your cells with glucose, so it gets sent to the liver for conversion to fatty acids, which then move into the fat cells. Low-intensity activity isn’t providing a strong enough stimulus to reach into the deeper stores of energy in the muscle to empty them for use. Intense physical activity will empty the storage, necessitating a refill of the reserves. It allows the receptors to be more sensitive again. Then glucose is welcomed back into the muscles, and it doesn’t need to be processed to fat for long-term storage.

Life-saving ability: Moving your body is essential during a disaster or accident. You may have to move heavy object, move other people, move (rescue) equipment or move yourself out of harm. If you get admitted in the intensive care unit, the point from where your organs start to atrophy is predicated on your muscle mass. Other organs track one to one in functional capacity to increases in muscle. The time it takes to reach multisystem organ failure and die, is directly linked to your level of muscle mass. Also, muscle is made up of protein. The protein from muscle can be repurposed to support the immune system in making antibodies, which are made up of protein as well. Antibodies fight foreign substances in the body. This is something that may need to be done after getting injured during an accident. Moving yourself may come down to more than running away danger. You may need to pull yourself up at a ledge or railing, requiring arm strength. You may need to carry injured people to aid stations, whether or not you can use a stretcher and help from others. You could fall and injure your spine. In this case, strong muscles will offer better support and structure to stabilize the spine, increasing your chances of having help reach you, and you making it to proper care.

Lower-back pain: The spinal column needs the musculature around it to perform its function properly. The muscles create movement as well as keep it in a neutral position. Manohar Panjabi et al. write as much at the beginning of their study, “Spinal Stability and Intersegmental Muscle Forces: A Biomechanical Model”:

“The human spinal column, devoid of musculature, is incapable of carrying the physiologic loads imposed on it. It has been shown experimentally that an isolated fresh cadaveric spinal column from T1 to the sacrum placed in an upright neutral position with sacrum fixed to the test table can carry a load of not more than 20 N (4.4 pounds) before it buckles and becomes unstable.6 Therefore, muscles are necessary to stabilize the spine so that it can carry out its normal physiologic functions. This stabilizing function is in addition to the usual muscle function of producing motions of the body parts.”

One study found an increase in back strength and an increased range of motion in people with low back pain after a strength training program, performed at two different centers. Also, in the year after the program, only 10% of patients from one center and 12% from the other center had to return to the health care system for help. Another study also reported an increase in strength as well as reducing pain and psychosocial dysfunction. Overall, there is no evidence that exercise poses a risk for people with back pain. Exercise also improves back flexibility and strength, as well as improving performance in endurance activities. Exercise also reduces the intensity of back pain, as well as alleviates associated fears and concerns.

Resting metabolism: One study calculated an average increase in resting metabolic rate of 6.8% after a resistance training protocol. This increase amounted to an average 19 kJ/h. As 1 kJ equals 0.239 large or food calories (Cal), this increase is about the same as 108 Cal per day. For those who like to eat, this means that after such a protocol, you can eat about one fresh, medium size apple (about 80 Cal), or about half an ounce of organic almonds (about 80 Cal), or about one slice of multigrain bread (about 90 Cal) extra per day to support your new resting metabolic rate.

Strength: Stronger muscles benefit you in all activities in life. It not only helps you with the activities you already can do, it can also open up new activities that you couldn’t do before. For example, groceries, gardening, cleaning or going up and down stairs may be tedious now, but the extra capacity you developed in muscle strength and metabolic support will make these tasks easier, and likely also faster.

Symptoms of arthritis: Individuals whose arthritis is under control can enjoy the benefits of strength training, such as increased physical activity and functional status. Improvements in pain, strength and fatigue, without exacerbating disease activity, were observed in people who did strength training.

Further Reading

Campbell, W. W. et al. “Increased energy requirements and changes in body composition with resistance training in older adults” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 60 (2), pp. 167-175, 1994.

Faigenbaum, Avery D. et al. “The Effects of a Twice-a-Week Strength Training Program on Children” Pediatric Exercise Science, Vol. 5 (4), pp. 339-346, 1993.

Goldberg, Linn et al. “Cardiovascular Changes at Rest and During Mixed Static and Dynamic Exercise after Weight Training” Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, Vol. 2 (3), pp. 42-45, 1988.

Hames, David; Hooper, Nigel: Biochemistry. New York: Garland Science, 20114.

Harris, Kathryn A.; Holly, Robert G. “Physiological responses to circuit weight training in borderline hypertensive subjects” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Vol. 19 (3), pp. 246-252, 1987.

Hurley, B. “Does Strength Training Improve Health Status?” Strength and Conditioning Journal, Vol. 16 (3), pp. 7-13, 1994.

Hurley, B. F. et al. “Resistive training can reduce coronary risk factors without altering VO2max or percent body fat” Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Vol. 20 (2), pp. 150-154, 1988.

Koffler, K. H. et al. “Strength training accelerates gastrointestinal transit in middle-aged and older men” Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, Vol. 24 (4), pp. 415-419, 1992.

Kraemer, Fredric B.; Shen, Wen-Jun. “Hormone-sensitive lipase: control of intracellular tri-(di-)acylglycerol and cholesteryl ester hydrolysis” Journal of Lipid Research, Vol. 43, pp. 1585-1594, 2002.

Leggett, Scott et al. “Restorative Exercise for Clinical Low Back Pain: A Prospective Two-Center Study With 1-Year Follow-Up” Spine, Vol. 24 (9), pp. 889-898, 1999.

Menkes. A. et al. “Strength training increases regional bone mineral density and bone remodeling in middle-aged and older men” Journal of Applied Physiology, Vol. 74, pp. 2478-2484, 1993.

Panjabi, Manohar et al. “Spinal Stability and Intersegmental Muscle Forces: A Biomechanical Model” Spine, Vol. 14 (2), pp. 194-200, 1989.

Protein. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Rainville, James et al. “Exercise as a treatment for chronic low back pain” The Spine Journal, Vol. 4 (1), pp. 106-115, 2004.

Rall, Laura C. “The effect of progressive resistance training in rheumatoid arthritis: Increased strength without changes in energy balance or body composition” Arthritis & Rheumatism, Vol. 39 (3), pp. 415-426, 1996.

Risch, Sherry V. et al. “Lumbar Strengthening in Chronic Low Back Pain Patients: Physiologic and Psychological Benefits” Spine, Vol. 18 (2), pp. 232-238, 1993.

Stone, Michael H. et al. “Physiological Effects of a Short Term Resistive Training Program on Middle-Aged Untrained Men” National Strength Coaches Association Journal, Vol. 4 (5), pp. 16-20, 1982.

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