From The Desk Of Clarence Bass
“For men at least, entering middle age with plenty of muscle may lower the later risk of developing heart disease by more than 80 percent.” Gretchen Reynolds, New York Times (January 29, 2020)
Evidence of “Muscle Talk” Mounts
Signposts along the Way
Evidence that muscles communicate with every organ in the body, slowing aging of the arteries and aging in general has been mounting for decades. William Evans, PhD, and Irwin H. Rosenberg, MD, professors of nutrition and medicine, respectively, at Tufts University, got the ball rolling with publication of their book Biomarkers (Simon & Schuster, 1991).
Biomarkers are indicators of biological age.
For many years, aerobic exercise was thought to be practically synonymous with good health. Resistance training or bodybuilding was considered mainly cosmetic. Biomarkers exploded that myth, making strength training an equal partner with aerobics. What is more, resistance training became the senior partner for taking the worry out of aging.
To help people understand how resistance training affects aging, Evans and Rosenberg coined the term “sarcopenia” to describe an ailment that affects many old people and deprives them of their independence. “Sarco” refers to flesh, “penia” means a reduction in amount. So sarcopenia describes an overall weakening of the body caused by a change in body composition in favor of fat and at the expense of muscle.
The authors concluded that muscle mass, the first biomarker, is responsible for the vitality of your whole physiological apparatus. That muscle mass and strength, the second signpost, are our primary biomarkers. The lead dominoes, so to speak. When they start to topple, the other biomarkers soon follow. On the other hand, when muscle mass and strength are maintained, the other indicators are likewise maintained.
That is where resistance training comes to our aid. Aerobic exercise and diet are important, but resistance training, according to the professors, is pivotal if you want to stay young longer.
Mark C. Houston, MD, MS, a professor of clinical cardiology at Vanderbilt University School of Medicine, drilled deeper into the anti-aging benefits of muscle in his book Heart Disease (Grand Central Life & Style, 2012).
“Doing a thousand sit-ups, jogging 10 miles, or practicing yoga every day won’t do the trick,” Houston wrote. “Most doctors and trainers recommend the exact opposite [of the desired] approach to movement and exercise, one that may actually accelerate deterioration of the arteries and encouraging overall aging,” Houston added. The problem is that the focus is on exercising the heart and burning calories, when it should be on challenging the muscles. When muscles move, Houston explained, “they release powerful messenger molecules that ‘speak’ to every organ in the body and determine whether oxidation and inflammation are encouraged or discouraged, fat is burned or stored, new tissue is created, and much more.”
You’ll find many more details in Muscle Talk: The Metabolic Benefits of High Intensity Exercise:
Unique Health Benefits of Muscular Strength
An impressive group of researchers including Duck-chul Lee, PhD, Timothy S. Church, MD, MPH, PhD, and Steven N. Blair, PED, reviewed the literature on the effects of resistance training, with special attention to delineating its benefits beyond those of aerobic exercise.
“Physical fitness is one of the strongest predictors of individual future health status,” the researchers wrote in introducing their review. “Together with cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF), muscular strength (MusS) has been increasingly recognized in the pathogenesis and prevention of chronic disease. We review the most recent literature on the effect of MusS in the development of cardiovascular disease (CVD), with special interest in elucidating its specific benefits beyond those from CRF and body composition.”
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After many pages detailing their findings, they give the bottom line on the unique benefits of resistance training (RT).
To conclude, RT must be considered in addition to aerobic exercise in the prevention and treatment of CVD, since both muscular strength and cardiorespiratory fitness may provide unique benefits. In fact, RT might be a more attractive type of exercise for overweight and obese individuals, who are at a higher risk of developing CVD and who may be averse to aerobic exercise. Clinicians and fitness professionals are directed to several guidelines and statements that have been developed for the prescription of RT in different populations: apparently healthy middle-aged and older adults, children and adolescents, and patients with CVD.
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To drive home the final nail, the researchers attach a Table comparing the effects of aerobic exercise and resistance training (RT) on health and fitness variables.
Out of 20 variables, only one flat lines on one side and has 3 “up” arrows on the other: Muscular strength. Aerobic Exercise has a negligible effect, while Resistance Exercise has a large effect.
On Lean Body Mass, RT has a 2 arrow moderate effect, while Aerobic Exercise flat lines once again.
The closest dominance the other way is “Peak VO2” where Aerobic Exercise has a 3 arrow large effect and RT has a 1 arrow small effect.
On Submaximal and maximal endurance time, Aerobic Exercise has a 3 arrow large effect and RT a 2 arrow moderate effect.
You can read the entire “Author Manuscript” online:
Muscle Mass and Heart Health in Middle Age
While muscle mass typically decreases by 3 to 5 percent per decade after 30, it doesn’t have to be that way. Resistance training can build and preserve muscle mass well past middle age—paying big dividends.
A team of researchers from Spain, Australia, and Greece found that maintaining muscle mass when entering middle age may lower the risk of developing heart disease by as much as 81 percent!
As we have seen, muscles release powerful messenger molecules that ‘speak’ to every organ in the body and help regulate muscle growth, nutrient metabolism, inflammation and a host of other processes.
In the new study, the scientists tracked muscle mass and heart health as people moved into middle age.
All participants were 45 or over and free of heart disease at the beginning of the study. Ten years later they returned for another round of testing, focused on heart health.
Out of a working sample of 1,019 participants, 272 had experienced cardiovascular events—fatal and nonfatal.
Males with the highest volume of muscle tissue at the beginning of the study had an 81% lower risk of stroke and heart attack, compared with those with the lowest muscle mass at the start of the study. They also had fewer risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.
The researchers concluded:
“The prevention of [skeletal muscle mass] decline, which is becoming increasingly prevalent among middle-aged and older populations, may constitute an effective means of promoting [cardiovascular] health.”
Open Access, the study was published in the January, 2020, issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health:
I have called picking up my father’s barbell in grade school the most far-reaching thing I ever did, but I had no idea that it went far beyond launching my positive mindset.
My results allowed me to discount the warning of my high school coach that athletes don’t lift weights, but I had no inkling of the short sightedness of the prevailing view.
I added aerobic exercise to my training regimen after reading Dr. Kenneth Cooper’s ground breaking book Aerobics, but rejected his admonition that weight lifting was cosmetic. That muscle building would put an unhealthy load on the cardiovascular system.
The joggers taking to the streets in the Aerobic Revolution had no clue that they were neglecting a part of their body that could extend their health span for decades.
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The researcher’s Table comparing the effects of aerobic exercise and resistance training makes it clear that both forms of exercise have a place in building and maintaining fitness and health.
Resistance training is the senior partner for building muscle mass and strength, while aerobic exercise prevails for building Peak VO2, the number that expresses how much oxygen you consume when exercising your hardest.
Aerobic exercise also prevails for building mitochondrial volume and density. Resistance exercise is superior for building resting metabolic rate.
Both forms of exercise improve insulin sensitivity.
Hats off to the authors of Biomarkers for their amazing far-sightedness.
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The last study above highlights the importance of maintaining muscle mass into middle age and beyond. Our training pictorial demonstrates that muscle mass can be maintained into the eighth decade of life:
April 1, 2020
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