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Exercise as Treatment for Neurological Conditions Part 2 - Building Muscle Mass


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.