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Maintaining muscle is one of the most important aspects of long-term health and longevity.

While many people often become fixated on which diet is best — such as paleo, keto, or low-carb — we know that by doing so you’re missing a big part of the health and fitness puzzle.

Nutrition alone is not the answer to reclaiming your health, getting rid of excess body fat, and feeling your best. Nutrition provides the building blocks for your body, but you need strength training to tell your body what to do with that nutrition.

The average person starts losing muscle as early as age 25. From 40 to 70 years old, muscle loss averages 8 percent per decade, and then accelerates to 15 percent after age 70.

Besides aging, injuries, cancer, and other diseases also cause muscle loss. Your muscle tissue is a significant factor in the function of your metabolism. Muscle loss can also cause physical and cognitive decline. 

The good news is, much of this muscle loss, especially in younger and middle-aged adults, can be slowed, prevented, and even reversed. However, with the average lifestyle today, along with low levels of testosterone and growth hormone, high levels of stress, and the prevalence of type 2 diabetes, muscle loss is only accelerated.

At some point, the rate you lose muscle exceeds the rate you can gain it. You cannot escape the effects of aging, but you can delay them. The more muscle we have when our bodies start breaking down, the longer we can last with our physical function.

Yes, muscle looks good, but its value goes well beyond how it looks. Here are seven ways muscle supports your body and mind:

1. Muscle helps manage blood sugar.

High-carb diets combined with sedentary lifestyles created an epidemic of diabesity (obesity and diabetes). About two-thirds of the population is overweight or obese, and prediabetic or diabetic.

Obesity and diabetes aren’t always paired together, however. About 20 percent of those with diabetes or prediabetes are at a healthy weight.

To fix the blood sugar problem, you could eliminate carbs entirely by following a ketogenic diet. Or, you could eat a more moderate amount of carbs and create space to store them by building muscle.

Your liver and skeletal muscle store glucose as glycogen. However, if you don’t exercise regularly, and more specifically, train with weights, you lose your ability to store carbs. When you don’t have any place to put them, blood sugar rises, the pancreas secretes insulin, and you store fat. The more muscle you have, the more storage space you create for glucose. 

There’s also plenty of evidence to show that blood sugar and insulin dysfunction leads to cancer, cognitive problems, heart disease, and accelerated aging.

More than one-third of the population has prediabetes, yet only one in 10 know they have it. Even worse, by 2025, 64 percent of the population is expected to have type 2 diabetes.

2. Muscle builds strength and stamina.

During your first few months of a weight-training program, you gain strength without much of an increase in muscle tissue. In this adaptation phase, your nervous and muscular systems get better at using the muscle you already have, even when you don’t have much.

You gain considerable strength without building any muscle. Then, after you’ve pushed your strength limits with your existing muscle, you start to build more muscle. After a few more months of consistent weight training and a high-protein diet, you notice a little more shape to your body, and your strength continues to improve. You also notice that you can handle harder workouts and you recover faster than you had in the past. 

Although it’s fun to see how much your strength improves, the real benefit is how it impacts your everyday life. You can skip up the stairs without getting short of breath. You can carry your groceries without needing a cart. You can throw your grandson in the air and watch a smile cover his face.

The strength and stamina come from the growth of new muscle fibers, as well as new energy-producing machines called mitochondria — you produce energy more efficiently.

Your ligaments and tendons, as well as your muscles, gain strength. And your nervous system gets better and better at coordinating different muscle groups to make your movement more fluid and effective.

Whatever strength you have today, if you don’t intentionally work to improve upon it, you’ll be weaker a year from now. If you’re not building muscle and strength, your body will break it down.

3. Muscle supports your joints.

One of the primary reasons people avoid weight training is joint pain. Ironically, the reason many of those people have pain is because they don’t weight train. The better route is this: Figure out how you can weight train in a way that doesn’t make your joint pain worse. Eventually, the weight training will alleviate your joint pain.

That’s not to say that someone with osteoarthritis in the knee, where there is no cartilage between the bones, will feel good doing squats. They might have to find an alternative movement.

At the same time, you don’t need to let any one body part keep you from exercise altogether. There are plenty of areas you can work on. Interestingly, increasing lean body mass has been shown to improve some forms of arthritis.

Muscle protects your joints from the effects of stepping off a curb the wrong way or slipping on some unseen ice. If you have the strength and coordination, you’ll catch yourself rather than crashing and getting hurt. Also, the hormonal effects of building muscle can help repair other tissues and alleviate some of the pain you feel.

4. Building muscle builds bone, too.

Physical tension or resistance stimulates the growth of muscle mass and bone density. After experiencing the stimulus, your body uses amino acids to build and repair muscle (along with other micronutrients), and uses protein, calcium, magnesium, and vitamins D and K to build bone. 

Although calcium, magnesium, and vitamin D and K are necessary for bone health, your body won’t build bone unless you give it a reason to. You have to stress your bone with resistance training.

If you’re losing muscle, you are almost assuredly losing bone density. And if you do what’s necessary to build muscle, you’ll very likely improve bone density, too. Strong muscles almost always translate to healthy bones.

5. Muscle helps you control body fat.

Muscle burns about three times as many calories per pound as body fat does. So, as you drop body fat and add muscle, your scale weight might not change, but you’ll create a significant shift in how you look while also increasing your resting metabolic rate.

Like muscle loss, metabolic rate drops as you age.

Beginning in their 20s, the average person’s metabolic rate drops about two to three percent per decade. By age 50, it falls an average of four percent per decade. By the time you reach 70 years of age, your metabolic rate is about 30 percent lower than it was in your 20s.

However, it doesn’t have to be that way. Your exercise and diet choices are a much more significant factor than age itself. In fact, a fit 70-year-old could have a metabolic rate that far exceeds that of a sedentary 30-year-old.

It’s important to note that if you’re doing a lot of cardio and eating a low-calorie diet to try to burn off excess body fat, you’re actually going to speed up the loss of muscle and slow your resting metabolic rate. Use cardio sparingly, and instead, rely on strength training and a high-protein diet to build lean body mass.

6. Muscle may change your emotional state.

When you feel sad or depressed, you may unconsciously slouch, drop your head down, and turn your arms in. When you feel an emotion, you take on the posture of that emotion.

Research shows it works in reverse as well: When you take on the posture of that emotion, you begin to feel that emotion. How do most people sit while at work or while using their smartphones? In the very same position they sit in when they’re depressed.

You can do a lot to improve the ergonomics of your workstation, but you can also combat some of the effects of poor posture by building muscle in a balanced way. For example, when designing upper-body exercises for clients, we often select about 60 percent upper-body pulling or back movements, and about 40 percent upper-body pushing movements. Clients can then focus their muscle-building movements on improving their posture and unwinding the effects of sitting and scrolling.

The research shows that when people improve their posture they can also improve their emotional state. 

7. Muscle makes you more self-confident.

There are few things more exciting than experiencing a physical transformation or accomplishing new personal bests — slipping into a new pair of pants, seeing the definition in your shoulder, reaching a new PR on the squat and deadlift, doing 10 real pushups in a row, or completing your first bodyweight pull-up.

These physical accomplishments can supercharge people’s self-confidence in ways that help them achieve many other things in their personal lives and career.

The loss of physical strength has a direct impact on your mental strength as well. A weak body and a weak mind often go hand in hand. So, if you need to be mentally tough for your job, business, relationship, or family, do whatever it takes to get physically strong(er).

The confidence you gain from becoming more fit gives you the confidence to accomplish many other things as well.

Make Regular Deposits Into Your Quality of Life Savings Account

Just as a well-funded retirement account allows you the same standard of living even after you stop working, building muscle allows you to maintain the same quality of life even after your body begins the physical and mental decline of old age.

Strength training and a high-protein diet are the foundation for building lean body mass. Whatever your age or health and personal obstacles you’re dealing with, it’s always a good time to get started with an effective strength training program.

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The Life Time Training Team

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