By Batista Gremaud
Why are skeletal muscles vital to optimum health and longevity?
To shed some light on this highly misunderstood topic, I've recently interviewed Dr. Gabrielle Lyon, a doctor in osteopathic medicine and board-certified in family medicine. She is the founder of The Institute for Muscle Centric MedicineTM, where she treats high performers and members of the elite military, including Navy Seals and Special Forces.
Photo by eotistudios
Dr. Gabrielle Lyon believes building and supporting skeletal muscles is key to health and longevity.
Here is an overview of our conversation
Q: Many women do not want muscles because they desire a feminine look. At the same time, aging men who used to lift weights when they were younger often lean towards softer activities, such as Yoga or walking. How do you respond to these arguments?
Muscles are underrated and underappreciated. If your muscles are more robust, you improve your quality of life. Those who are stronger don't get sick as much; if they do, they recover faster.
Preventing and surviving illnesses such as various cancers, diabetes, osteoporosis, or recovering from injuries depends on how many muscles you have!
Youth offers the prime muscle-building opportunity and bones; doing so later in life is still possible but at a fraction of the pace.
Q: Did you say skeletal muscles directly influence diseases such as cancer or injury recovery?
Yes! The skeletal Muscle is your amino acid reservoir. All your organs, tissues, brain, liver, and kidneys need a steady flow of amino acids. Therefore, the skeletal Muscle sustains you during fasting, injury, and illnesses, including cancer.
Furthermore, resistance training produces natural cancer-killer cells. Cancer attacks skeletal muscles, a condition known as muscle wasting, resulting in the body's inability to keep up with its needs. As a result, the death rate for those who are not muscular is much higher.
So when people avoid resistance training and settle for walking, Yoga, or Pilates, they are doing themselves a real disservice.
Q: I thought obesity was the root cause of most diseases!
We falsely blame obesity for diseases like diabetes and cancers. Obesity doesn't "cause" diseases, but it makes them worse. However, skeletal Muscle dictates your metabolic foundation. Therefore, it determines almost everything about your body composition and overall health:
Blood sugar regulation
Ability to manage fats
The more robust and healthier your muscles, the more carbohydrates and fat your body burns.
Skeletal Muscle is your metabolic currency.
Dietary protein is necessary to regenerate all tissues and organs. For example, skeletal muscles secrete myokines, proteins that help regulate metabolism in all other tissues in the body. There are 20 different amino acids, which are the precursor for many compounds in the body. So skeletal muscles boost the immune system and counterbalance anti-inflammatory mechanisms in the body.
We are trying to fix the wrong problem. Most health issues confronting adults are not from being "overfat" but being "under-muscled."
Under normal conditions with daily exercise and calorie control, 80% of glucose disposal is skeletal muscles! So, where will glucose go if you do not have lean muscle mass, if your muscles are inactive, or if you're eating too many carbs? That substrate is going to build up, resulting in unhealthy tissue. I believe this is the root cause of most diseases.
Insulin resistance starts in 20-year-old sedentary people, a decade before we see liver abnormality.
Suppose you are not building muscle mass through resistance training, cardiovascular conditioning, and eating for protein optimization. In that case, you are starting the process of Alzheimer's, cardiovascular diseases, and diabetes, even if your blood markers are normal.
Aging diseases start during midlife or earlier and are skeletal muscle diseases.
Q: Recent research shows weight lifting can prevent or reverse Alzheimer's. Can you address this?
The fastest way to deteriorate the brain is to be inactive. Exercise has an orchestrated inner play through every system in the body. It does not only release oxygen to the brain. Instead, it produces hundreds of myokines throughout the entire body; one of them is called a brain-drive neurotrophic factor, which is like a fertilizer to the brain.
Q: How does one build and maintain a healthy musculature?
There are two ways to produce and protect muscle mass; one is through diet, and the other is through resistance training.
Resistance training stresses old and weak muscle tissue and rebuilds new and stronger ones. The more active your muscles, the more likely you'll have lower blood pressure, better cholesterol, and better blood sugar.
Eating quality protein builds muscles via protein synthesis
Learn to design each meal around a targeted amount of high-quality protein. I recommend three meals daily for most adults with a minimum of 1 gram of high-quality protein per pound of your ideal weight. That will cover everyone's needs, from an aging population to those suffering from an illness.
In doing so, you'll improve your body composition with less fat. As a result, you'll be less likely to gain it back, helping manage your weight over a lifetime.
Q: What is a high-quality protein?
A high-quality protein supplies the body with all 20 essential amino acids and is primarily found in animal protein. It is possible to meet your plant base daily protein requirements; however, it will drastically increase your daily caloric intake. It is a counterproductive approach if weight loss is the goal.
There are a lot of negative narratives about animal-based products, which are entirely inaccurate and not supported by science. A plant-based diet is not optimal for muscle health and aging.
Q: So eating enough high-quality protein combined with resistance training is the answer to weight loss and the obesity crisis?
To lose weight, you still need to have a caloric deficit. However, maintaining a caloric deficit without supplying the body with enough protein leads to malnutrition and gaining weight back, causing the yo-yo diet syndrome. Furthermore, this process causes muscle tissue loss each time you repeat the cycle. As you age, it becomes harder to earn it back, leading to muscle loss syndrome and increasing metabolic dysregulation.
It is not only about the quantity but the quality of the muscle tissue. For example, a muscular but obese individual muscle tissue can be unhealthy because it will be marbled with fat, much like a marbled steak. However, adhering to the principles above will improve the condition over time.
I leave with these words:
Aging is inevitable, but how we age is our choice.
Building muscle mass is a free tool we can leverage to control and influence the biggest endocrine organ in our body!
Skeletal Muscle is our body's armor and protects against falls and illnesses. It is the organ of longevity, the primary organ of protection. Muscle building should be addressed as the focus point, not the peripheral.
Unfortunately, our society lacks physical literacy. Our vision of exercise is simplified; we need to interface it with medicine; movement is medicine, Muscle is medicine.
Strength is not optional.
The question is: How do we begin to bridge the gap between fitness professionals and medical professionals?
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