Good health is way more than battling the scale – you need good quality muscle mass. It's in our genetic blueprint – our bodies cannot stay healthy without consistent vigorous exercise and that means strong lean muscles.
It's movement that triggers a chemical reaction that tells every single cell in our tissues, organs and systems to repair, rebuild and renew itself.
Strength training improves more than just body composition, muscle force and mobility. It is key to a strong immune system, enjoying stellar health and longevity. It makes the body work better at repairing tissue and fighting off disease as well as dealing with stress. It is, in effect a protective shield in the body against disease.
Let's face it, many people get sick when they feel stressed or depressed because the immune system slows down when stress hormones are released. Studies reveal that regular strength training exercise provides long-term immune protection – because it causes adaptations that allow the body to withstand stress and recover from it more efficiently.
How exercise helps us deal with stress
Exercise helps reduce the release of stress hormones and releases good hormones instead.
Regular exercise provides an outlet for and consumes much of the nervous energy produced by stress.
Exercise shifts ones' focus away from any external factors producing the stress.
Muscle mass matters
Everyone is aware of the role that muscles play for body strength but not many people realise that muscle mass also serves as the body's armour and defence against illness and disease.
Once we reach our mid-20s, things begin to shift. If our muscles are not getting the physical "workout" required (what they were created for – their reason for being), they will be losing around 500 grams of muscle tissue per year.
After age 50 this number doubles. This change in body composition - the loss of precious muscle tissue accompanied by an increase in body fat - puts extra strain on all systems, siphoning away strength and weakening the entire body.
The reality is, after we reach the age of 30, we basically have two options available to us – we can either give in to the long process of becoming weaker with time (and destroying our immune system) or we can work at maintaining our strength (building our immune system) for the rest of our life.
If we don't consistently give the body the correct stimulus that triggers muscle growth and strengthens the immune system, the opposite occurs - the slow process of muscle wasting begins.
Loss of lean muscle with increased body fat causes way more damage than what appears in the mirror. Weak flabby muscles cannot help the heart push oxygen and nutrient rich blood around the body so all cells, tissues and organs suffer.
It changes the balance of fats in the blood leading to heart attack and stroke and alters sugar metabolism increasing obesity and diabetes. Even the brain is downgraded which is of vital importance as it is the central processing unit – comparable to the hard drive on a computer.
Bottom line is this - the loss of muscle tissue hastens the degenerative processes and conditions that characterise the dreaded ageing process. When the bodily systems weaken, including the immune system, it leaves one exposed to life-threatening disease and illness.
It's not only physical health that suffers, but mental and emotional health suffer as well. Moods, anxiety, stress levels, levels of happiness and satisfaction with your life are all impacted with the loss of lean muscle tissue.
Strength training – the one simple lifestyle strategy amounting to two to three total hours each week dedicated to maintaining your physique, provides you with a strong immune system offering a massive reduction in disease risk and ultimately extended health and longevity.
Activity that works our muscular system forces us to grow. So, what are you waiting for?
• Carolyn Hansen is co-owner of Anytime Fitness.