Muscle Matters

Want to burn more calories, lose fat, and develop a lean, toned body? Pump it up!

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Want to burn more calories, lose fat, and develop a lean, toned body_ Pump it up!
Want to burn more calories, lose fat, and develop a lean, toned body? Pump it up!

It may seem counterintuitive, but the path to losing weight involves lifting weight.

“If you want to lose weight, get off the treadmill and start lifting weights,” advises personal trainer Lori Long, who owns Grow Strong Fitness on Old Dixie Highway. “People tend to focus too much on cardio and the scale. The scale only tells you how much you weigh, not what you’re made of. When people skip meals and starve themselves, their body eats its own muscle to survive. That’s like destroying your body’s engine.”

Research shows that torching calories is not all about cardio moves. Here’s why: our bodies burn calories all day just to keep us alive. This constant calorie burn is called the basal metabolic rate. Just as no two people are alike, no two metabolic rates are alike. Our metabolic rates are influenced by age, sex, height, weight, genetics, and our ratio of muscle to fat. When we exercise, we may burn more calories, but we don’t change our basal metabolic rate.

Strength training is important for successful weight management
Strength training is important for successful weight management.

One simple way to increase our metabolic rate is to build more muscle. Lean muscle requires more energy—or calories—from our bodies, even at rest. That’s why strength training can help us lose and manage weight. A 2017 study found that dieters who did strength training four times a week for 18 months lost more body fat (18 pounds) than dieters who didn’t exercise (10 pounds) and those who did only aerobic exercise (16 pounds).

If looking fit and trim isn’t reason enough to get you pumped, consider this: research shows that strength training can help you live longer and lower your risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis as well as breast, endometrial, and prostate cancers. It can reduce inflammation and depression, and it has been found to improve bone density, strength, balance, posture, sleep, blood pressure, cognitive function, and self-esteem.

Strength training is even more important as we age, because after 30 we begin losing roughly 3 to 5 percent of muscle mass per decade. By age 80, some people may have lost up to 50 percent of their muscle. Age-related muscle loss may contribute to an increased risk of falls and fractures, limited mobility, and a lower quality of life.

Personal trainer Lori Long advocates for strength train- ing more than treadmill work for weight loss
Personal trainer Lori Long advocates for strength training more than treadmill work for weight loss.

Like many women, 65-year-old Cathy has been active throughout her life, even entering bodybuilding competitions in her 20s. But, over the years, the pounds crept up along with her birthdays, and she felt tired, sluggish, and out of sorts with her body. She visited the Regenerative Biologics and Age Management Institute in Vero Beach with the goal of losing weight and optimizing her overall health. Under the guidance of nurse practitioner Rachel Polich, Cathy took a deep dive into understanding what was impeding her efforts to shed pounds and regain her energy level.

During her initial visit, weighing 152 pounds at a height of 5 feet, 3 inches, she learned that her small frame was composed of 32 percent body fat and 56 pounds of skeletal muscle mass. Subsequent blood work revealed that she could benefit from thyroid hormone supplementation, B12 and other essential vitamins, and a glucogen-like peptide (GLP-1) to combat insulin resistance.

While following the therapeutic regimen Polich prescribed, Cathy diligently continued spinning, walking, weight training, and eating healthier. After six months, her weight and body composition analysis revealed that she had shed 40 pounds and reduced her body fat to 21 percent—while maintaining nearly 50 pounds of skeletal muscle mass. “I can run on the treadmill for 20 minutes without feeling winded. I feel stronger and I have more energy,” says Cathy, who has regained some of the muscle definition she had as a 26-year-old bodybuilder.

Nurse practitioner Rachel Polich helps her patients understand the benefits of learning their body composition
Nurse practitioner Rachel Polich helps her patients understand the benefits of learning their body composition.

“One of the biggest risks of GLP-1 injections, which are very popular right now, is the muscle wasting that can accompany rapid weight loss,” says Polich. Losing muscle, she points out, slows metabolism and calorie burn, resulting in the exact opposite of the desired result.

“I advise my patients to make strength training a priority in addition to good nutrition.” Polich continues. “Thanks to her exercise program, Cathy was able to preserve her muscle mass while decreasing her percentage of body fat, which will fuel her metabolism and lead to improved long-term metabolic health.”

“Societally, we—especially women—focus entirely too much on our weight,” Polich observes. “If we want to strive for our best body, we must shift our focus away from the scale and understand body composition. Lean body mass is key. It differs for men and women because women naturally need a slightly higher body-fat percentage to maintain hormonal health, but we often are remiss in harnessing the benefits of increasing our skeletal muscle mass.”

Check with your health professional before embarking on any kind of strength-training routine
Check with your health professional before embarking on any kind of strength-training routine.

“Your waist-to-hip ratio is another simple way to assess excess body fat,” says Long. It is calculated by measuring the widest part of the waist and dividing that by the measurement taken at the widest part of the hip. Scores greater than 1.0 for men and 0.8 for women are indicative of excess weight around the waist and could be predictors of heart disease or diabetes.

For most of us, cardio comes naturally and can be as easy as getting on a treadmill. Strength training, on the other hand, is intimidating for some people because it can take many forms and incorporate different tools, such as bands, machines, free weights, or one’s own body weight.

Many experts advocate progressive resistance training (PRT) to constantly challenge muscle development and avoid plateaus that impede progress. With this method, you improve strength and endurance by gradually increasing weight, reps, and sets. Polich, who incorporates a mix of power, endurance, and agility styles of strength training into her own fitness program, is a proponent of “time under tension.” With this method of lifting, you perform exercises such as biceps curls, squats, push-ups, and dead lifts with slow, intentional movements, exposing the muscles to more time under tension. “I encourage people to approach strength training with caution and curiosity,” she says. “Start with light weights and increase slowly. If a style of strength training does not give you the results you prefer, don’t think of it as failure; realize it is a journey and explore something else! Have fun!”

Then enlist a well-qualified personal trainer, who can help set up a detailed program and supervise your initial workouts to ensure you perform them safely and effectively
Then enlist a well-qualified personal trainer, who can help set up a detailed program and supervise your initial workouts to ensure you perform them safely and effectively.

Before you pick up a dumbbell, it’s helpful to understand the basics of muscle development. The human body includes more than 600 muscles, each composed of thousands of fibers working together to keep you and your organs moving. Muscle tissue contains proteins that store and release energy. Thus, the key to building muscle is protein synthesis and cellular repair.

Resistance training places added stress on muscles, causing microtears in the muscle fibers. This damage stimulates the body to rush in with a repair response, resulting in an increase in muscle size and stored energy. The repair response occurs 24 to 48 hours after resistance training, which means that what you eat and how much you rest following a workout are key factors in determining how effectively you build muscle. Age, gender, and genetics also play a role. Men, for instance, can build bigger, stronger muscles because they have more testosterone than women.

“You can’t build muscle if you’re eating Cheetos and ice cream,” says Long. “To build muscle, we need to feed muscle with plenty of protein. What you eat should come from a tree or the ground, not out of a bag with 20 different ingredients.”

It’s important to include lean protein in your diet when trying to build muscle mass
It’s important to include lean protein in your diet when trying to build muscle mass.

Sticking to the Mediterranean Diet at least 80 percent of the time is best, she says, because it incorporates lean meats, fish, fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, healthy fats, and dairy products. For an extra boost, add protein powder to shakes, oatmeal, or yogurt. This may be especially beneficial for men, who typically experience a decreased ability to synthesize protein as they age.

Exercise, diet, sleep, and stress reduction are all essential components of what Long calls the life-fitness balance. “I have very fit, energetic, mentally sharp 97-year-old clients, one of whom likes to say, ‘Treat your body as if it were the last vehicle you’ll ever own. Keep it out of the sun and give it regular tune-ups.’” Just don’t forget to make “vroom” for strength training!

Benefits of Strength Training

  • Preserves and enhances muscle mass
  • Increases metabolism and helps burn more calories at rest
  • Helps long-term weight control
  • Strengthens bones and reduces risk of osteoporosis
  • Improves balance and reduces risk of falls
  • Improves lipid profile and reduces risk of cardiovascular disease
  • Improves blood sugar levels
  • Reduces pain and stiffness associated with arthritis
  • Improves mood and self-esteem

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