There are so many myths and misconceptions regarding the proper workout to achieve your fitness goals and overall wellbeing. Whether your focus is weight loss, burning fat or reversing the aging process (or all three!), your MUSCLES need to be an integral part of your routine with an emphasis on how to stretch, tone and build them. Why? Because the trigger for burning calories, and inducing fat loss, is muscle activation. Couple this with the sad fact that starting at age 25, we lose an average of a half pound of lean muscle tissue each year. A typical 55 year old will have 15 pounds less lean muscle tissue and since muscle takes up less space than fat, our middle age bodies morph into a softer, less firm body with slower metabolism as we grow older.
Regardless of your fitness level, we can all reap the benefits of a fundamental approach centered around muscles as the key to optimal health so I have categorized fitness status into the following three levels:
- If you are sedentary, it is time to start moving. Move or die is not too great an exaggeration, especially after age 40 as our muscle cells drastically slows down in the rebuilding process. This lifestyle literally deactivates the signals to your muscles cells and shuts them down, giving credence to the cliché use it or lose it. But our bodies want to move, and were designed to do so, and the good news is you can flip the ‘on’ switch by stimulating muscle cell growth through movement. Demand action from your body (in a careful, gradual manner within your limits) and it will respond positively. Sitting is indeed the new smoking.
- The mildly active can greatly benefit by redirecting their focus on impacting their muscles too. Yes, of course, a walk in the park or leisurely bike ride does wonders for overall wellness and will always be a beneficial lifestyle choice. But the primary role of exercise in weight loss is the prevention of muscular atrophy. Our muscles, at the cellular level, are our furnace that fuels our metabolism. If we don’t activate them by specifically targeting them, they diminish in size and strength and we compromise our body’s natural state which is to be loaded with strong, energy-producing, fat-burning muscles.
- Which leads me to all of us fitness enthusiasts, who qualify with a gym membership or a worn out pair of running shoes. I’ve witnessed hundreds of well-intentioned gym rats who completely ignore resistance (weight) training, yet will do hours of cardio per day. The gals typically respond with the concern of fear of bulking up (trust me, unless you are taking testosterone shots, this will never happen), while many members mistakenly believe cardio is the only way to shed pounds. Absolutely nothing wrong with cardio but is it aligned with your fitness goals?
The most effective method to induce fat loss is to increase your metabolism or RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate). But the reality is cardio does nothing to increase your metabolism. In fact, ironically, if you do too much cardio it can actually decrease your metabolism, decrease your muscle mass and make your body burn fat at a slower rate! Your body adjusts once it hits a plateau, especially to a steady state cardio session, anticipating the burden and consequently resets how it burns fuel.
Muscle is the only type of body tissue that burns fat, and cardio plays a very minor role to increase muscular growth. Additionally, cardio only elevates your oxygen consumption to increase briefly after working out; in other words, once you step off the treadmill, your metabolism is elevated for a short while and then returns to normal. Conversely, a properly designed resistance training program that challenges and builds muscle elevates your RMR for up to 48 hours, keeping your body burning fat even while sleeping.
I’ve only scratched the surface while trying to delineate between different activity levels, but the underlying message is that targeting our muscles is the key to optimal health. Regardless of your age, gender and fitness ability, we can all benefit from this. From a simple stretching regimen to a gentle approach to toning muscles to a power lifting session to building, the emphasis needs to focus on impacting your muscles with frequency. From better posture to a leaner physique, we all owe it to ourselves to take care of our bodies as the old adage, use it or lose it, is now more timely than ever.