Making a Strong Case for Building Muscle

In his search for the fountain of youth, Ponce de Leon would have been better off at Muscle Beach.


Concerning the so-called normative changes associated with aging, William Evans, Ph.D., of the USDA Human Nutrition Research Center was recently quoted as saying, "It's changes in muscle mass that may trigger all of the other changes."

Dr. Evans was addressing the annual meeting of the American Dietetic Association. During his talk he cited studies in which 45- to 60-year-old athletes were compared to athletes in their 20s, as well as inactive men in both age ranges. These researchers found that inactive men gradually lose muscle as they get older. But the athletes who continue to train throughout their 30s, 40s, and 50s, tend to keep their muscle mass stable. The loss of muscle was not age related, they concluded.

"We can see that the amount they have is directly related to the amount of time they spend exercising," says Evans. He also referred to strength-training research in which 80- and 90-year-old men and women significantly increased the muscular size and strength of their leg muscles.

At the ADA meeting, Dr. Evans seemed to be lending his voice to the chorus of experts telling us that muscle atrophy is making us old before our time.

There's another study that possibly not even Evans has paid much attention to. It was published in Medicine and Science in Sports (1975) by a group headed by Dr. Alfred L. Goldberg.

In working with laboratory rats, Goldberg found that if muscle is stimulated to grow through exercise, it will grow - in defiance of tremendous adversity and at the expense of the remainder of the organism. Starving rats, fed almost nothing but water - if exercised properly - showed unusual muscular growth.

But why?

One of the fundamental traits of animal life is locomotion. Locomotion depends on muscular size and strength. Survival resources are, therefore, allocated to the muscles first. This priority allocation, however, depends on the muscular growth stimulation that comes from progressive exercise.

When we stimulate our muscles to grow, under the right conditions, they pull energy (calories) from our fat stores.

Muscles have a vast capillary system and are one of the body's biggest users of energy. This is why each pound of muscle we can build raises our metabolic rate by approximately 37.5 calories each day.

Most adults, if they are willing to work hard at a regular strength-training program, can add 3 pounds of muscle to their bodies in six weeks and three times that amount in six months. In other words, 9 pounds of extra (or rebuilt) muscle on your body would speed up your metabolic rate by 337.5 calories each day - and that's significant.

On the other hand, if we do not use our muscles progressively they will atrophy or get smaller. Instead of increasing metabolic rate, the calories per day we burn will decrease. That's what typically happens as we get older. Simultaneously, our caloric intake remains the same - or may even increase. Either way, our physiques get gradually fatter.

A slight, consistent reduction in dietary caloric intake, coupled with an increase (or at least not a decrease) in muscle mass keeps our waistlines in check and our motivation on track.

Perhaps it also bolsters our immune system. Perhaps more fruits and vegetables and fewer deep-fat-fried foods restrict the chances of malignant growths and clogged arteries. Perhaps the heavy breathing induced by regular exercise cleanses our lymph system.

Perhaps if we realized that benefits accrue over extended periods of time, we wouldn't lose our patience and junk our resolve.

Perhaps the fountain of youth does not have to fade from our grasp so quickly.

With proper strength training we can strongly influence the variables - there's no perhaps about it.

Best of all, you don't have to journey to California to find a place to pump some iron. Your personal Muscle Beach is as close as a set of dumbbells in your home, or the assorted equipment at your local YMCA or fitness center.

Act now for stronger leaner living.

Updated on: 07/19/16