What does a little old lady on Britain’s Got Talent, an article claiming that muscle mass is a better predictor of longevity than BMI, and No-brainer Fitness: E, have in common?
Other than being tidbits of “information” you can find on the Internet?
Well, the first may very well be an illustration of the second. Anecdotal, to be sure, but an illustration nevertheless. And the third is definitely derived from the principle of building muscle mass as a starting point to having fit and healthy bodies well into older age.
First, the little old lady.
Paddy is 80 years old. And she’s on the show with a much younger, much taller partner called Nico. They are doing a dance routine. At first, it’s tame and boring. And then, her partner starts twirling her about, lifting her and spinning her in the air. Acrobatic Rock ‘n Roll style. The audience holds its breath, commentators are speechless.
Why? Because everyone is afraid for this fragile little old lady. She might break a hip. She might lack strength and let go as she’s dangling precariously, and then crash and need an ambulance. You can see them thinking it. Heck, it’s almost impossible not to think it.
But she doesn’t. She holds on, and finishes the routine on her own high-heeled two legs. With a smile.
Why would we think this extraordinary?
Because we have been trained, perhaps brainwashed, into thinking that becoming old means becoming fragile. That frailty is the norm for older people.
But as MRI images of older triathletes reveal, in comparison to both younger and same age but sedentary folks, when you maintain your muscle mass and remain active, other than slowing down some and requiring more recovery time, we can remain lean, muscular, and prevent our bones from losing strength well into old age.
Second, what about that article about muscle mass?
While most of the medical establishment (and people providing dietary advice) have been saying for some time that losing weight is good for your health in the long term, it seems in fact that having more muscle mass, even with a higher BMI, is a better predictor of outcomes.
Simply put: Don’t just try to lose weight; put on some muscles. It’s better for you.
I’m no expert, but I can think of many reasons why that would be logical, beyond the fact that diet alone never works:
- Muscle mass is what burns the most calories; so the more muscle mass you have, the higher your base metabolism, and therefore the less you tend to gain weight. Or the faster you burn through extra reserves. Remember that excess weight, especially abdominal fat deposits, is a major risk factor; but muscles burn calories, so you don’t need to starve yourself half to death to lose the weight.
- Muscles are what put strain on your bones, and therefore keep them from becoming weak (in reaction to the strain, bones become denser, and more sturdy). Stronger bones means less chances of fractures, which is an important contributor to loss of autonomy and health in older age.
- A stronger body in general is insurance against injuries caused by attempting to perform tasks that once were normal, but that become a challenge as we age. We’re not old in our heads, so when we think we can do something, but have not maintained our bodies, we run the risk of getting hurt.
The main issue, as I see it, is that as we age (starting around our mid-twenties), our metabolism and hormonal equilibrium shift, and it takes some activity to maintain muscle mass. It is not automatic that we gain weight, but if we lose muscle mass because we don’t use it enough, then we start to burn less, and thus put on the weight.
A good remedy to that is to maintain muscle mass. Or re-build it.
This is where No-brainer Fitness: E comes in, as a third part to the initial comparison.
The first thing to focus on when beginning a new regimen of activity is re-building muscle mass. And that is precisely what occupies a great deal of the time of No-brainer Fitness: E.
The best way to protect your body against excess weight and injuries is to have a stronger body.
And now, it seems, research is showing that long-term health is better if you have greater muscle mass.
So put first things first, and re-build (or maintain) that muscle mass. (Which is not the same as saying that you should not do any cardio, or eat badly. It’s just a place to start…)
Muscle mass index as a predictor of longevity in Older adults, The American Journal of Medicine (article in press), 2014
The article from which the MRI images are claimed to originate can be found here.
Watch Paddy and Nico here. (Hopefully that link is still up…)