Welcome to this week’s “Weekly Thread”, your weekly dose of ancestral wisdom and modern science that focuses on our core tenets of wellness: nutrition, movement, lifestyle, and spirit.
This week, I’m trying something new and changing up the format a bit.
From time to time, I’ll switch up the format a bit like this, and focus on a specific topic or idea, and all segments that week will then center on that topic or idea in various ways.
This week, I’m going to focus on building muscle and adding strength and why it appears to be critically important for BOTH men and women who want to live a healthier, longer, more optimal life.
Let’s first get you up to speed a bit more…
Basic science has shown us that skeletal muscle has two inherent functions: postural retention (supporting the body essentially), and then fueling the locomotion of all the physical activity of the human body.
More current research shows quite definitively that skeletal muscle also plays a third, and incredibly significant role in the body, as an endocrine organ.
This means your skeletal muscle is part of the endocrine system, a complex system of glands and organs that release hormones into the bloodstream.
In fact, by total mass, this would make your skeletal muscle the largest organ in the body.
Your skeletal muscle releases hormones called myokinnes into the bloodstream that have beneficial effects on your peripheral and remote organs. These myokines are typically released during exercise, (yet another reason to keep it moving) most notably, during resistance, or weight training.
In short, training with weights releases these myokines into the bloodstream that then have beneficial health benefits for the entire body.
But this is just the beginning of why better trained, stronger muscle tissue is such a critical component of longevity.
The musculoskeletal system also contains fasciae, a complex system of connective tissue with multiple purposes, but one of which, is acting as a “hydraulic system” for dispersing water throughout, and better hydrating, the body.
Your skeletal muscle is also the main dumping site for glycogen in the body, which means, plain and simple, the more muscle you have, the more effectively your body will naturally regulate blood sugar.
We know that lower blood sugar over the course of a day will help you burn more fat, and over time, reduce risk of diabetes and pretty much all diseases, as high blood sugar is a pretty strong bio market for future disease.
Finally, more muscle means more cells, which means more mitochondria, which are your cells’ natural energy furnace. More mitochondria means your body is more effective at producing energy and staving off metabolic deficiency diseases, most notably, cancer.
I can’t stress enough that all of the above applies to, and is just as important for BOTH men and women.
This doesn’t mean we should all start becoming bodybuilders, I’m not suggesting that, however, I do recommend everyone adopt resistance training with weights into their workout regimen, or continue to, if you’re already resistance training in some form.
The research is only growing, and it appears that resistance training is the most critical form of training to reduce risk of disease, and live a longer, healthier life.
Typically, this means 3-4 days per week, for 30-45 minutes to yield the most benefits, but of course, if you’re currently not doing any resistance training, anything is better than nothing.
Olay, are you convinced that building more muscle and getting stronger is the key to longevity?
Interested in learning more?
Let’s dive in a bit more…
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon is a functional medicine practitioner, and founder of the Institute for Muscle-Centric Medicine. She is a nationally recognized speaker and media contributor specializing in brain and thyroid health, lean body mass support, and longevity.
So what is “Muscle-Centric Medicine”?
By her own definition, (as she coined the term for this approach) “Muscle-Centric Medicine shifts the focus away from reactively quantifying and treating disease to proactively quantifying and optimizing your health by focusing on the biggest organ in your body: skeletal muscle.”
Let’s unpack this a bit more, and begin by understanding a bit more about the “functional medicine” approach, which is an approach, and greater mindset I personally apply towards my health, and life overall.
Functional Medicine is defined as, “a medical practice or treatment that focuses on optimal functioning of the body and its organs.”
From my perspective, I would describe functional medicine as a proactive approach to health that focuses on disease prevention, and living optimally by treating the entire body as a complex, interdependent organism, versus treating surface level symptoms of illness and disease only when they appear.
A perfect example of the application of a functional medicine approach would be healing your gut, and improving the overall health of your gut’s microbiome, and having the end result be improved energy, better metabolism, less stress & anxiety, better sleep, and so on. Basically, by fixing this one thing, it has a “domino effect” throughout the body yielding positive benefits throughout.
For Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, her approach to functional medicine then is to focus first on what we now know is the largest organ in the body, your skeletal muscle (Muscle-Centric) to help treat the entire system in a proactive manner, get in front of disease, and help you live healthier, and longer.
And the research on the critical role muscle and protein play in overall longevity is only growing, which I share more of as you keep reading.
I’ve found Lyon to be a tremendous source of information that has helped me further shape and cultivate my thoughts on and approach to longevity.
If you’d like to learn more from her, and about the Muscle-Centric Medicine Protocol, tap the various buttons below. I’ve shared a podcast I found very valuable on “High Intensity Health”, along with links to her social and website.
Apple Podcast (High Intensity Health)
Spotify Podcast (High Intensity Health)
CAN YOU BUILD MUSCLE & LOSE FAT AT THE SAME TIME?
The seemingly magical goal of burning fat while you build muscle has been an often dismissed, and at minimum, argued over hypothesis for quit some time.
In a recent review of research in “The Strength and Conditioning Journal” titled, Body Recomposition: Can Trained Individuals Build Muscle and Lose Fat at the Same Time?, the answer appears to be “YES”, under certain conditions.
NOTE: This research and subsequent findings apply to “trained” individuals. Meaning, your body has adapted physically to a consistent training regimen. If you are overweight and a novice to regular exercise and training, when you begin training more regularly, your body will naturally respond by building muscle and burning fat due to the novelty. This paper again, focuses on trained individuals where losing stubborn body fat, can become, well, more stubborn, and oftentimes is at the expense of losing muscle mass, which we now know means losing part of a critical organ for disease prevention, so that is also not optimal. (In fact, new research shows that losing muscle mass could be a stronger marker for disease than gaining body fat. More on that in the next segment)
Here are the three key factors you can control, and want in your favor if you want to both build more muscle and burn more fat (and heck, who wouldn’t want that!?) from your training:
- Resistance train. We’ve already covered this, and this paper iterates what we now know, to build muscle, burn fat, and even live longer, you must resistance train regularly.
- Sleep. And sleep is more so about quality over quantity. You want as much of your sleep as possible to be in the key “Deep” and “REM” sleep cycles respectively. Obviously, the more sleep you get overall, the more likely you are to achieve greater time in Deep and REM sleep cycles, however, there are ways to hack your sleep to be more efficient at achieving greater time in these key sleep cycles in less time. (More on “sleep hacks” in future editions of The Weekly Thread)
- Get your protein. The research shows it to be basically imperative that one must get 1g protein per 1lb of body weight daily (this is also something Dr. Gabrielle Lyon iterates), however, research also showed that upwards of 1.2-1.4g protein per 1lb of body weight achieved better results.
DOES FAT FREE MUSCLE LOSS INCREASE RISK OF CARDIOVASCULAR DISEASE?
An interesting study published at the end of this January titled, Two-year changes in body composition and future cardiovascular events wanted to understand more about the relationship between body composition and the risk of cardiovascular events.
Some quick background on the study and it’s methodology…
The study included 1,048 participants between the ages of 50-80 years. It had a male;female split of 43.51%:56.49% respectively. All participants (and this is key) had to be without any overt signs of cardiovascular disease and were given two examinations during 2013-14 and 2015-16, and were followed up with until 2022 for cardiovascular events. A bioelectric impedance analyzer was used to calculate fat % and FFM % (fat free mass %). During the 5.5 years of follow ups, 86 cardiovascular events occurred, or in 8.21% of participants.
Now, for the results…
The study used a “Hazard Ratio” (HR) to evaluate the increased risk a respective change in body composition created for a cardiovascular event, with the two most significant measurables being a gain in fat % (no surprise there), and a loss in FFM % (muscle).
Here’s where it gets real noteworthy,
The study found that a fat % gain > 2% resulted in an HR of 2.07x, or a 207% greater likelihood of a cardiovascular event.
The study also found that an FFM % loss > 8% resulted in an HR of 3.83x, or a whopping 383% greater likelihood of having a cardiovascular event.
In short, both a gain in fat % and a loss in fat free mass % will increase the likelihood of a cardiovascular event as you age.
Here are my takeaways and conclusions:
- It’s no surprise that a gain in fat % will increase the likelihood of a cardiovascular event, so there’s not much to glean there, however, the results showing that not only does a loss in fat free mass % also increase your risk of a cardiovascular event, but may actually be a stronger risk factor than a gain in fat %, was quite noteworthy.
- Body fat % has a strong tendency to increase as we age, however, what many of us don’t pay attention to is Sarcopenia, the decline of skeletal muscle with age, which means there’s a chance many of us are seeing a gain in fat % and a loss in FFM % as we age, meaning you now have two compounding factors for an even greater increased risk of a cardiovascular event.
- All of the above research and resources I’ve shared lead up to these final points: resistance train (ideally 3-4x per week for 30-45 minutes), and eat lots of high quality protein to support lean body mass and help lose body fat. Not only does this go for both men and women, and as you age, but actually becomes even more critical for living a longer, healthier life, without disease as you age.
SNACK ON MOVEMENT
This is something I’ve been making more of a point of incorporating into my everyday life as it’s really quite easy, it just requires some focus and training to turn it into a mindset and habit that you naturally do throughout the day.
Instead of snacking on food, make a point of “snacking” on movement throughout the day.
Even if snacking on food isn’t an issue for you, this is still a concept I invite you to adopt. Especially with any forms of resistance based movement.
Basically, throughout your day, take momentary breaks to get dedicated movement in.
This is something we all have time for as it literally takes 2-3 minutes per “movement snack”.
This can include: push-ups, body-weight squats, kettlebell swings (if you have a kettlebell handy, or at home/work): jumping jacks, ab crunches, heck, anything that forces you to take a break in some way from your day for just a few moments to get some dedicated movement in.
And as we’ve now learned, anytime you can make that movement resistance based (body-weight resistance counts), you’ll then stimulate your body’s largest organ, your skeletal muscle, and cause a positive hormonal response that benefits your entire body.
Did you know that doing a static squat and hold in a position where you’re down on your “haunches” for just 1 minute is enough to stimulate a positive metabolic response from your muscles!?
So, it doesn’t take much, just the mindset and focus on keeping it moving throughout the day.