In part one of this series, I touched on the scientifically proven physical
and neurological benefits of exercise. When most non-fitness folks think
of exercise, what typically comes to mind is jogging, running, bicycling,
or light weightlifting – some variation of moderate energy, steady-state
movement. As previously discussed, this type of body mechanics
is important for cardiovascular health and does greatly benefit those with
neurological disorders. However, an entire other side to exercise exists
with its own specific set of research proven benefits and that is the
skill of building muscle mass.
Building lean body mass (or muscle) is no longer just a hobby for hardcore
bodybuilders or fitness moguls, but an actual necessity for a healthy,
high-functioning and resilient body and brain. Muscle mass has a significant
effect on a person’s quality of life, now, and especially as the
body begins to age. Though many people have been conditioned to live and
breathe “cardio,” engaging the body in effective strength
training is about high intensity muscle movements, using heavy weight
and maximum energy in a short amount of time.
Body by Science, an eye-opening literary tool revealing the benefits of this type of exercise,
explains it in a fascinating way. The authors profess that the benefits
of just a few minutes (a little over 10 minutes, a WEEK) of pushing muscles
to fatigue far outweighs those of countless reps, sets or excessive wear
and tear. From a neurological standpoint, they explain that typical steady-state
cardio exercise even goes so far as to “train the plasticity out of your physiologic system – that ability
to handle widely varying levels of exertion within a short span of time
gets trained away. You actually make yourself less plastic and less adaptable
to physical stress in general."
The most basic of benefits from building lean muscle on the body is simply
strength. The more strength you contain in your muscles, the more prepared
you are for everyday movements, and the easier movement becomes. To a
healthy individual, this may sound insignificant, but those living with
a neurological disorder that affects their physiology can attest to the
fact that everyday movements like getting dressed, or opening a jar can
become impossible feats, and every ounce of healthy muscle strength counts.
Just like muscles, bones need consistent outside resistance to maintain
their strength. If they don’t get this “exercise” they
become weak and are much more susceptible to diseases like osteoporosis
or arthritis. The good news is that building muscle usually encourages
stronger bones too.
Muscles also help control blood sugar levels not only in people with diabetes,
but in everyone. Elevated blood sugar levels produce cancer-encouraging
agents, skyrocket the risk for heart disease, and have been studied to
correlate with other degenerative neurological diseases such as dementia
or Alzheimer’s. Muscles have the unique capability of being able
to store excess blood sugar and use it for energy. The more muscle you
have the more storage capacity available to you, reducing the chances
of sugars being retained and stored as fat in the other cells in your
body. Similarly, as we age and our metabolic rate decreases (this is our
ability to burn calories at rest) it becomes much harder to avoid accumulation
of fat. At this point, most people turn to excessive cardio exercise to
burn calories, which only reduces existing muscle mass actually making
the problem worse because the one tissue in the body that burns the most
energy is … you guessed it – muscle. Building and maintaining
lean muscle is the single best way to boost your metabolic rate and burn
off extra fat.
The benefits that lean muscle offers to the human body are undeniable.
Taking into consideration what your body needs and pushing it to work
hard will in turn allow your body to work hard for you and provide you
with optimal health from the inside out.