Creak. Crackle. Pop. It has been said that nothing makes one feel older than poor mobility and difficulty with typical daily activities that used to be easy.
One may wonder how much of the aches, pains, and loss of mobility is inevitable as we age? The reality is that we can do a lot to reduce this decline in our capacity to move. In this article we will discuss some of the factors that drive this loss of function and what you can do about it.
What Is Musculoskeletal Health?
The musculoskeletal system is a broad term encompassing the things that help us move: our bones, muscles, joints, and the ligaments holding it all together. At the center of it all is adequate muscle mass.
Muscle mass is the total weight of all muscles in the body, and it plays a crucial role in maintaining overall health. Stronger muscles require more muscle tissue, which means that muscle strength is directly linked to muscle mass. If you want to be strong and mobile, it’s important to have more muscle mass than you need to accomplish your daily tasks.
Maintaining healthy levels of muscle mass has a multitude of benefits for your health. Firstly, it helps to maintain a healthy body composition by increasing the ratio of lean body mass to fat mass. Increased muscle mass leads to an increase in metabolism, which can aid fat loss efforts. In other words, your muscle burns energy and therefore increases your metabolism.
Secondly, having adequate amounts of muscle mass can help prevent chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. This is because skeletal muscles assist with regulating glucose levels in the blood and improving cardiovascular function.
Thirdly, having strong muscles can improve physical performance by increasing endurance and reducing fatigue during exercise or daily activities. It also improves balance and coordination, which reduces the risk of falls, especially among older adults.
So, what exactly constitutes healthy levels of muscle? The answer varies based on age, gender, fitness level, and other factors such as bone density or body weight. However, generally speaking, men have higher levels of average muscle than women due to hormonal differences, but this doesn’t mean women should not focus on building their own strength through resistance training exercises like lifting weights. Look for most specifics in the lean mass section later in this article.
Sarcopenia and Musculoskeletal Health
Low muscle mass, sometimes referred to as sarcopenia, is a common issue of aging and results in decreased mobility and increased risk of falls. Something that we don’t often think about is that we predictably start losing muscle mass as we age. In fact, starting around the age of 30, we start to lose between 3 to 8% of our muscle mass every year.1 This muscle loss can be a tricky cycle to avoid: pain restricts our movement, which then accelerates our muscle loss. It’s therefore important to identify the root cause of any chronic pain you have and address it, instead of masking it and not moving as much.
Incidents of musculoskeletal pain increase with age, with as many as 60% of older adults reporting pain.1 Sarcopenia is one contributor. It’s important to be aware of sarcopenia and take proactive measures early on. By following a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, proper nutrition, rest, and recovery, you can prevent or slow down the effects of sarcopenia.
The Importance of Building and Maintaining Muscle Mass for Long-Term Health
Building and maintaining a high level of muscle mass is crucial for overall health and longevity. Not only does lean muscle help to reduce body fat and increase strength, but it can also lower the risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease. Additionally, having extra muscle mass can help combat the eventual loss we all experience as we age. Starting early can make a big difference in your muscle-building journey.
Muscle mass is not just about looking a certain way; it plays a vital role in improving overall physical function and quality of life. Building muscle helps improve balance, coordination, and flexibility, making everyday activities easier. It also increases metabolism, allowing for more flexibility in your diet. In fact, muscle mass helps blunt the effect of eating the occasional comfort food. This can increase your motivation to continue building muscle.
How Does Muscle Mass Grow?
Muscles grow by the tearing of microfibers during exercise and the repair that happens during rest periods with adequate nutrition. Over time, this process leads to larger muscles with more strength and endurance. It is important to vary the types of exercises and increase resistance over time to continue challenging the muscles and promoting growth.
What is Lean Mass Percentage and How Do You Calculate It?
Lean mass percentage is the amount of non-fat tissue in your body relative to your overall weight. It’s an important metric to determine how much lean muscle you have and how it affects your body composition. To calculate lean mass percentage, you need to know your body fat percentage or the mass of body fat on your frame. With that number, you can subtract your body fat percentage from 100%. For example, if you have a body fat percentage of 20%, then your lean mass percentage would be 80%.
To measure your body fat percentage, you can use various methods such as skinfold calipers or bioelectrical impedance analysis. At Cambiati we use such an analysis with our clients to monitor their body composition improvements. This allows for a more accurate assessment of health than whether one is simply gaining or losing weight. This is because one can lose mostly muscle mass when losing weight or gain mostly muscle mass when gaining weight. Getting accurate feedback about what is happening in response to your efforts is critical to harnessing motivation and understanding the true effectiveness of your efforts.
Enough Protein Intake: How much is enough?
The amount of protein needed to optimize muscle protein synthesis varies depending on factors such as age, sex, and activity level. However, research suggests that consuming 1.6 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight per day can support muscle mass development.
Protein sources include animal products such as lean meat, fish, eggs, as well as plant-based options like beans, nuts, and for some people moderate amounts of organic soy foods. It’s important to note that different sources of protein contain varying amounts and types of amino acids. For example, animal proteins are considered “complete” proteins because they contain all nine essential amino acids that our bodies cannot produce on their own.
- Quality protein powder. Supplementing with an exceptional protein powder like Whatever It Shakes provides a convenient way to boost your protein intake in combination with your healthy diet. We love this protein option (we created it in-house because we’re so passionate about high-quality protein powder!) because we have formulated it with anti-inflammatory and gut-supportive nutrients to quietly support optimal health in the background while you focus on living life.
- Magnesium. This mineral helps regulate muscle contractions and can help control muscle cramps.2 Good sources of magnesium include many whole grains, fresh produce, and nuts. Many people have a difficult time getting enough in their diet, partly due to decreased levels in modern soils. If you notice muscle cramping on a regular basis, then this likely includes you. We really like TriMagSupreme for easily absorbable magnesium.
- Omega-3 fatty acids. Supporting a healthy inflammatory response in the muscles, joints, and ligaments is a key part of supporting musculoskeletal health, and studies show that omega-3 fatty acids may be helpful. Good sources include fatty fish like salmon, almonds, and flax seeds. Designs for Health’s Omega Avail Hi Po provides and impressive 800 mg of both DHA and EPA in 2 capsules.
- Volpi E, Nazemi R, Fujita S. Muscle tissue changes with aging. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care. 2004 Jul;7(4):405-10. doi: 10.1097/01.mco.0000134362.76653.b2. PMID: 15192443; PMCID: PMC2804956.
- Bilbey DL, Prabhakaran VM. Muscle cramps and magnesium deficiency: case reports. Can Fam Physician. 1996 Jul;42:1348-51. PMID: 8754704; PMCID: PMC2146789.
- Kavyani Z, Musazadeh V, Fathi S, Hossein Faghfouri A, Dehghan P, Sarmadi Efficacy of the omega-3 fatty acids supplementation on inflammatory biomarkers: An umbrella meta-analysis. Int Immunopharmacol. 2022 Oct;111:109104. doi: 10.1016/j.intimp.2022.109104. Epub 2022 Jul 30. PMID: 35914448.