Why is muscle mass important? You have or will have sarcopenia, known as muscle wasting.
Sarcopenia is an involuntary loss of skeletal muscle mass and strength. This can start as early as your thirties, when your skeletal muscle mass and skeletal muscle strength decline in a linear fashion, with up to 50% of mass being lost by your eighties. You can be losing up to 8% of your muscle mass each decade of your life. And those weakening muscles aren’t just your big muscles, it’s your heart.
You need that muscle mass, it helps to balance your hormones and immune system, balance your metabolism and if you are managing an autoimmune disease (or several) muscle helps decrease inflammation. Muscle also regenerates and builds new mitochondria.
Sarcopenia is a natural part of the aging process but the good news is that you can do something about it. You can strength train to fight the hands of time.
In the quest for thinness, our society has prioritized aerobic exercise. Skinny without muscle mass can lead to osteoporosis. In some medical circles, osteoporosis is also known as skinny white girl syndrome. As we age and inflammation takes hold we get fatty infiltration into our muscles, this makes our muscles less responsive and they don’t perform as well. This leads to frailty and increased fracture risk (think of how devastating a fall can be for an elderly person). If you need to battle an acute injury or illness your body can lose up to 10% of muscle mass from sarcopenia. This can be the kiss of death. Your muscle mass and fitness really matter in a health crisis.
Your joints, bones, and ligaments work together, they break down together or get inflamed together. When you strength train, you are building an anti-inflammatory suit of muscle armor to protect your body.
As a massage therapist, I’m often in a certain position all day, sometimes bending over. For years I suffered from chronic low back pain until I started strength training and moving my body dynamically. Strength training improved my circulation and the synovial fluid in my joints while improving my stability and joint health.
Strength training has also made the activities I love to do, including mountain biking and snowboarding, more fun. I have confidence in my body’s ability to do these activities safely.
How do you start building muscle mass? Strength train.
I wish I could tell you how to strength train but it’s not that simple. You really need to be taught. I recommend working with a trainer (I have one) because strength training is a skill and if you don’t do it right you could get hurt. If a trainer is not accessible to you find help online (Jordan Syatt is a great resource). You can strength train at home with a few pieces of equipment. It’s a great idea to start without weights so you can focus on your form. Then you can progress and add kettlebells or go to a class. I like the strength classes at HIIT Logic and Orange Theory. Barre3 classes are great for moving your stabilizer muscles.
NOTE: Strength training is not bodybuilding, it’s gains in strength. If you are doing it properly you want progressive overload, increasing your weight over time. How quickly you progress with weight is highly individual and based on where you start, your current health, and your experience with strength training.
Benefits of strength training for an hour:
- Muscle eats fat
- The metabolic rev-up of building muscle gives you hours of afterburn: it modulates your immune function, reduces pain, lowers your blood pressure, and improves your cardiovascular health
- Increase in mental and physical resilience
FYI: Muscles grow when you are resting. So rest days are just as important as the workout. If you are going for a specific look with your muscles (like a six-pack), it’s 80% nutrition.
Motivation comes and goes but consistency never changes. If you fall off the wagon you just consistently get back on.
What I think I look like doing pull-ups (Moriah on the left) vs. what I actually look like doing pull-ups.