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Muscles Are Good For You

Muscles Are Good For You

By Cindy Bourgoin

“Yes, Mom, I’m fine, Mom… Yes, I’m eating well… Yes, Dad, I’m sleeping good… Yes, Dad, I exercise enough. In fact, I’ve beenstrength training and you should see how my muscles have grown!” “What! Muscles??” they chime together somewhat perplexed, “Why would you want to grow muscle?”

Even my health-concerned parents don’t get it. “Muscles are good for you!” I tell them. Their disillusioned attitude about strength training and especially strength training for women is shared by many. In part, the confusion comes from a myth or two regarding weight lifting. You’ll get too bulky. Women can’t get strong, so what’s the benefit of more muscle mass.

Explaining a few things should clear the confusion. Interestingly enough, when a given cross-section of muscle fiber is tested for strength, men and women come out about the same. Women can activate muscle fibers and make them stronger. The difference lies in the facts that women have one-third the level of testosterone, providing men with the ability to grow larger muscles. Women, on the other hand, with more of estrogen, are provided with larger stores of body fat. Also, men’s muscle take up greater space, especially in the upper body areas, which helps explain why women tend to be weaker upper-bodied persons. Women can certainly strengthen their muscles, but because of their biological configuration, chances are they won’t bulk up. Furthermore, genetically we all have an inherently proportionate spread of slow-twitch muscle fiber types (the ones that don’t grow much) and fast-twitch muscle fiber types (the ones that respond well to stimulation and grow). Individually, then, male or female, there will be a tendency to bulk up or not dependent on your genetic disposition.

What’s great about more muscle is that you can eat more! Just about everyone enjoys eating (healthy eating, of course)! For every one pound of muscle gained, a person can eat 50-100 extra calories without weight gain. It was once thought that only continuous aerobic activity could burn sufficient calories. Another myth. Research now suggests that six to 12 calories per minute are burned during weight training workout (six when working smaller muscles and closer to 12 when working big muscles). Additionally, strength training boosts metabolism, so that more calories are burned just sitting around. Following a weight training session, certain enzymes are present in the body which promote an afterburn for as long as 15 hours. Consistent strength training can moderately increase your muscle mass and muscles love to burn fat for fuel. You become learner as your muscles whittle away at body fat stores. Other physical benefits are stronger joints, firmer muscles, more energy, better sleep, fewer aches and pains and increased life expectancy.

There are more benefits to weight training. Statistically, persons 85 years old are the fastest growing segment of the American senior population. This age group has more than doubled since 1965 and grown by 40% since 1980. The number of centenarians, people at least 100 years old, more than doubled during the 1980′s. The ability to function and perform activities of daily living becomes an issue throughout those older years. Consider the activities of lifting boxes, carrying groceries, changing tires, running for the bus, climbing stairs, playing with the grandchildren (great-grandchildren, for that matter!) to name a few. All require strength and endurance. Mental and emotional benefits accrue, too. They are increased self-confidence, improved concentration, increased creativity, improved ability to relax, reduced stress level and less worry.

Muscle growth results from a combination of lifestyle choices. Nutrition plays an important role. Muscle grows by stressing the musculoskeletal system. Weight training does this. When demands are placed on the system, muscle responds by growing bigger. What amazing bodies we have! Muscles anticipate more stress and they want to prepare and be ready. So, they grow. Between training sessions, which should be at lest 36 hours apart, muscle hypertrophy (muscle growth) occurs. Good nutrition is required to feed growing muscle and provide energy for working out. Here are a few good nutrition rules:

  • Eat at least six times a day- it increases a component of your metabolism called TEF (Thermal Effect of Food)
  • Spread calories out fairly evenly throughout those six meals.
  • Choose about 30% protein, 55% carbohydrates and 15% fat each time you sit and eat.
  • Choose lean protein like skinless chicken and turkey, and fish.
  • Choose low-carbohydrates like certain fruits and vegetables and whole grains.
  • Choose monounsaturated fats like olive oil.

Prepare yourself to make one or two changes at a time. Don’t whop everything on yourself all at once. For example, add olive oil to you grocery list this week. Start making a habit of reading ingredient labels when you shop. While you’re strength training, increase your protein portions. Think about 1 gram of protein for every pound of lean body mass.

For those of you who enjoy cardio workouts, keep them going. They are part of an overall fitness plan. And, here’s some good news- You don’t have to be aerobic for 30 minutes. If 10 minutes three times a day fits your busy lifestyle better, opt for the shorter workouts. You’ll still reap the benefits if improved cardiovascular efficiency and burning calories for fat loss.

Now you’re wondering where to begin, how to begin and what to begin with. If weight training is new to you and even if it’s not, you may want to consider hiring a personal trainer. A personal trainer can prescribe appropriate exercise with consideration to gender, age and any personally related medical and health issues. They are skilled at setting proper goals based on an individual’s needs, planning the right progression of exercise to achieve those goals, and can assist in tracking goal progress. To prevent injury, a trainer can demonstrate proper execution of exercise. They are knowledgeable in nutrition and can enhance fitness and health benefits with recommendations. Last, and maybe most importantly, they are aware of motivational techniques to help you adhere to your program.

Ready, set go! Prove to yourself that muscles are good for you. Your body won’t let you down.