They get you out of bed each morning, power playtime with your kids and carry you across race-day finish lines. But as much as you use your muscles, there's a lot about them that you probably don't know — yet.
Here's a look at four surprising, obscure and cool things to know and love about your muscles, as well as guidance around harnessing your newfound knowledge to rejuvenate muscle health from head to toe.
1. Your Muscles May be Connected to Your Heart Health
Did you know the health and strength of your muscles provide a clue to other health risks? It's true.
A study published in The Lancet found that muscle strength – measured by grip strength – may more accurately determined the risk of fatal cardiovascular disease than systolic blood pressure. Additionally, another study suggested body composition (the ratio of muscle mass versus fat mass) is a better indicator of overall health than body mass index (BMI).
This is because your muscles do more than move you. Together, they act like an enormous organ, influencing mobility, strength, balance and even metabolism.
To start improving your muscle health, focus on strength training and muscle-building nutrition. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends performing total-body strengthening activities at least twice per week. It's also a good idea to eat 25 to 30 grams of protein at every meal.
2. Exercise Causes Short-Term Damage to Your Muscles
Yes, exercise builds your muscles. But, before that, it breaks them down. When you challenge your muscles, you create tiny, microscopic tears to your muscle fibers. That damage signals your body to send amino acids (from protein) to your muscles to repair them and eventually make them stronger. Although it sounds like you're damaging your muscles by challenging them during workouts or strenuous activity, it's a healthy process — and helps you build strength.
To maximize the effectiveness of your workouts, consume 25 to 30 grams of protein after exercising, as this will help with the recovery and muscle-building process. In between tough sweat sessions focus on low-intensity activities like walking, yoga, gentle cycling and stretching. They can all help boost muscle recovery, according to the American Journal of Physical Medicine & Rehabilitation.
3. Your Body Needs More Protein As You Age
Research has found that starting at age 40, adults may lose up to 8% of their muscle mass per decade.[i]-4 And once they hit 70, that rate can potentially double. While inactivity plays a part (and requires a stronger focus on resistance exercises), your body also becomes less efficient at using the protein you eat to fortify your muscles.
A recent National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from Abbott and the Ohio State University found that more than 1 in 3 adults over 50 years old don't meet their recommended protein intake. Thankfully, there are a number of creative ways to add protein to your diet.
For ideal health and muscle nutrition, try combining your daily protein with HMB. It's a natural compound that has been shown to help preserve muscle mass in healthy older adults. You can get it in trace amounts from foods such as avocados, grapefruit and catfish, but you can also find it listed alongside protein in some specialized muscle nutrition beverages.
4. Muscles Improve Your Immune Health
That's right. If you want to build a strong immune system and reduce your risk of bacterial and viral infections, don't underestimate your muscles.
Research has shown that muscle tissue plays a role in activating immune cells, and people with lower muscle and strength levels have reduced immune function.[ii] Staying active is a key to health in more ways than one.
To enhance your immune health, take a look at your overall diet and center your meals around lean proteins, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and beans, and low-fat dairy. Together, these foods provide the micronutrients like calcium, vitamin D, iron and antioxidants that can help keep your immune system strong and rejuvenate muscle health.
[i] Grimby G, et al. Clin Physiol. 1982;3:209-218.
[ii] Nelke C, et al. EBioMedicine. 2019;49:381-388.
[ii] Baier S, et al. JPEN J Parenter Enteral Nutr.2009;33:71-82.
[ii] Janssen I, et al. J Appl Physiol.2000;89:81-88.
[ii] Nelke C, et al. EBioMedicine. 2019;49:381-388.
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