Muscles will save your life

Muscles Like Arnie

Sadly as a near 50 year old man who goes to the gym 4 times a week, runs and plays squash, I know one plain truth. Muscle strength peaks in our 30’s and slowly declines after that. In short, I am slowly degenerating.

So what’s the good news ? (also see my article on running and walking for a start). We know that muscle building reduces the risk of cancers and strokes, diabetes Type II and early studies show can even boost your memory, thus reducing cognitive decline.

Muscle training is resistance training, resistance training is muscle training. That means things that cause your muscles to work against a weight, such as your own body weight, or resistance bands, a weight at a gym or picking up a sack of food at home, count as muscle training.

The UK government and the world health organisation’s latest physical chart (2020), puts muscle training as the NUMBER ONE most important thing to do. It is at the center of their chart. Let me be clear, TWICE a week you should be building your muscle and currently 75% of UK adults do not get enough strength exercise a week. This figure dramatically increases with age and deterioration of health.

The bad news is by 30 years old we start to lose 5% muscle per decade and by 70 about 10 % a decade. Over time, the fibres in muscle change from being good with heavy loads for short periods to slower weaker fibres better with longer periods of use but less strength. This also alters hormone levels like testosterone, Growth Hormone and Insulin Like Growth factor.

By lifting weights for an hour a week, we reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by 70 %. (independent of aerobic exercise). Studies also show it reduced type II diabetes and as above showed a lower risk of heart attacks and cancer. Lastly, and there may be multiple reasons for this, the group of people that muscle train twice a week, have a reduced risk of premature death by any cause. My own opinion is that this group has better social contact as they exercise and keep better coordination. They probably have a better awareness of nutrition and stronger muscles stop us wobbling, tripping or falling down. This would translate to fewer hospital visits, infections and risks. Scientifically we also know it causes the development of motor-neuron pathways and bulk. The reason one paper stated why people with larger muscles fair better at cancers suggested bigger bulk to start with helps negate the wastage and storage when very ill. Muscle stores sacks of glucose and fats and its always good to get a stockpile in during a crisis.

Hormones play a big part, as does overtraining, sleep and nutrition. Testosterone and Growth Hormone (GH) help protein synthesis and help build muscle, Cortisol (a stress hormone) is also released in moderate exercise and so there is a fine balance, as cortisol can prepare your body for fight or flight and cause a shut down for the muscles (see my article on stress hormones). Regular exercise can decrease cortisol, but overtraining can stimulate it. This is where the mindset comes in. If you can convince yourself to enjoy working out, it really is better for you. By reading this article and many more like it, you will know why exercise is so good and hence will enjoy it more as a form of being kind and loving to yourself. On that subject, one useful tip is to think yourself muscular. A study showed people put into casts who spent ten minutes a day thinking of using the muscles and building them when out a cast were significantly larger in bulk than those who did not.

Using your muscle helps shift a lot of weight. Having a resistance weights workout (which is slightly heavy for you) burns energy even after exercise. Bigger muscles require more fuel, thus uses more energy. Secondary, weight training causes tiny mirco-tears in the muscles and repairing them (which takes about three days) demands more energy as well.

New scientist magazine used the following calculation. Lets say I have two 20 minute sessions of resistance training a week and each sessions burns 200 extra calories compared to not working out. Over the next three days I would burn another 100 calories repairing the muscle. That means over the month (31 days ish), that is an extra 500 calories for doing nothing.

Of course muscle training is great for your bone too. It strengthens bone reducing risk of fracture and osteoporosis. Better than aerobic exercise.

Lastly, higher grip strength people, have higher test scores on memory, reaction time and spatial awareness. One study showed older women who lifted weights once a week had significant improvements of cognitive function of attention, compared with women who did balance and toning classes.

Why is it easier for some people to do weights or exercise and not others.

There are so many reasons here, I could not possibly have the breath or time to go into them all. What I can say is that when you use muscles , you release yet another hormone from the brain called endorphins, and unlike synthetic ones, we cant habituate to them. Meaning these hormones make you feel “high” and over time we sensitise to them, meaning we can get the feeling quicker. The more you do , the more you want to do. Hence the first few weeks are the hardest.


Ostrogen is a primary sex hormone for women, it does everything from regulation of female reproduction to protection of some organs. However, too much can be bad and linked with breast cancer etc. Exercise can reduce ostrogen (Useful if over 35 as this group are often Ostrogen dominant) and thus reduce the risk of breast cancer. Be warned here, over-exercise may stop menstruation and the ability to conceive. Second warning – Do not use exercise as a form of birth control (yes I have heard it all).

What muscles to Use?

Recommendation would be each major group, legs, chest, arms, shoulder, pelvic at least twice a week. The evidence is the first work out gives you the most benefit, second a bit more and the third only slightly more, The results plateau after that. Also don’t worry about detail. The benefits of lifting a heavy weight 5 times or a lighter weight 20 times are basically the same. Just do some exercise that makes you feel tired and gets the heart pumping, squats, lunges, press ups, resistance training etc.

Vit D3 was given to elite ballet dancers and those taking it showed a 19% increase strength of leg muscles and less injuries compared to the control group / placebo takers. Protein is super important as well, but please just ask one of us about this.

Vibration machines increased strength up to two months after work outs compared with people who just did work outs.

Last and not least, you can stimulate a muscle in many ways, from thought to work out. As a famous brand put it…………….Just do it.