If you’ve followed this column at all, you’ve likely noticed that I’m a fan of catch phrases and quips. Despite the fact that short, pointed messaging runs the risk of not telling the whole story, there can be a lot of truth and wisdom found in a few thoughtful, well chosen words. I tend to use these quite regularly in this column – hopefully not so much as to be repetitive, predictable or, heaven forbid, boring. Nevertheless, ‘Lift Long and Prosper’, ’45 and Thrive’ and ‘Minimal Effective Dose’ are phrases which I use regularly to relay what I believe to be core principles in supporting wellness and an active long life. The title of today’s article, ‘Muscle is Medicine’ is a similarly tight, efficient phrase loaded with meaning well beyond its three word brevity.
So, what is the deeper meaning behind this phrase? Let’s break it down.
‘Muscle’ – What is muscle? Muscle is the specialized contractile tissue found in the body designed to provide movement. We have three types of muscle in our bodies: cardiac muscle found in the heart; smooth muscle associated with organs in the digestive, respiratory, reproductive, and vascular systems; and skeletal muscle located around joints of the body and used for body segment motion, or whole body movement, a.k.a. locomotion. The contractions of cardiac muscle and smooth muscle are controlled unconsciously, primarily by our autonomic nervous system. We don’t need to think about or plan these contractions; our brain does this for us. Skeletal muscle is most often controlled by our somatic, or voluntary, nervous system. We consciously plan and execute the use of skeletal muscle, from our most basic movements practiced and learned in infancy, through to the most complex and intricate movements we make as fully-functioning adults. Which type of muscle do I refer to when using the term ‘Muscle is Medicine’? The third type, skeletal, is the primary muscle type which pertains to this phrase. We have over 600 skeletal muscles in the body, and the size, strength and efficient use of these is, as we shall see, a key component of robust longevity.
‘Is’ – The 3rd person singular form of ‘be.’ By extension then, ‘be’ means “to have the same connotation as; to have identity with; to constitute the same idea.” There is equivalence then between terms or concepts linked by ‘is’. Hmmm… So, then Muscle is… equal to = Medicine? Let’s take a look at that.
‘Medicine’ is a powerful word which has captured and driven the intellect of some of our most brilliant minds; Banting & Best, Bethune, Salk. However, medicine has also, at times, been misrepresented by charlatans to validate practices as wildly unscientific as bloodletting, phrenology, or the use of arsenic and mercury to treat syphilis. Ouch! However, since the Enlightenment and through to the 21st Century, modern medicine has come to be “the science and art dealing with the maintenance of health and the prevention, alleviation, or cure of disease.” In its most simple form, it can also be understood as; “A substance or preparation used in treating disease.” I like both of these definitions and feel they work beautifully with the full phrase, Muscle is Medicine. Here’s why…
Many recent studies have revealed and reinforced that muscle mass, as a component of body composition, as well as the specific physiology associated with a robust musculature and muscular strength, have been positively associated with health benefits promoting longevity. Ruiz et al (2008) in a landmark study determined that physical strength or the process of developing strength is intrinsically linked to healthy aging. In addition, research indicates that the cumulative effects of regular, disciplined training, with appropriate protein intake, can promote muscle repair, muscle preservation, and muscle growth in the elderly if sufficient stimulus is maintained. Further, maintaining muscle mass is positively associated with helping to fight disease, infection and degenerative conditions. Muscle mass and strength helps to improve balance, reduces fear of falling, protects the body if/when stumbles or falls occur, and most importantly, promotes increased mobility, independence and higher quality of life (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26791164).
When muscle and the myriad of benefits associated with a healthy musculature are considered then there is no doubt in my mind as to the validity and underlying truth behind the phrase ‘Muscle is Medicine.’ It is undeniable that the strong, fit, and robust individuals are much more likely to live longer and healthier lives. If these results, highlighting the benefits of muscle and strength as we age are not medicinal as described above, then I don’t know what is!
Therefore when I use the phrase ‘Muscle is Medicine’ I’m trying to quickly and efficiently refer to one of the most profound and effective practices one can engage in to promote wellness in later life – strength training. As this realization gains traction amongst health care professionals and those focused on promoting the determinants of a longer, healthier, more robust lifespan, then measures of body composition which include and track muscle mass and strength will become key health metrics – as commonplace as heart rate, blood pressure, and cardiovascular efficiency.
There is probably no more significant single lifestyle behaviour which directly and positively effects wellness and quality of life than regular, functional strength training. The positive correlations are both profound and perhaps unexpected. When we begin to exercise a bit, especially with functional strength training, we also begin to consider other relevant aspects of our lifestyle. We begin to consider and perhaps adjust our diet as the intrinsic understanding of ‘we are what we eat’ takes hold. The positive feelings associated with both the endorphins surging through our bodies during and after exercising, and the increased self-confidence resulting from being and feeling stronger, leaner, and more vital further support and reinforce the veracity of strength training. This is why I am such a strong proponent of strength training. This is why I regularly insert phrases like ‘Lift Long and Prosper’, ‘Robust Longevity’ and, yes, ‘Muscle is Medicine’ in my articles and posts. And this is why, over time and through repeated exposure to such ideas, I hope that more and more of you will begin to consider including some focused, efficient strength training into your regular routine and, as a result, live and enjoy your best life – for many meaningful years to come.
Michael Patterson, M.Ed.
Lift long and Prosper
Michael Patterson M.Ed, has spent 30+ years as a fitness and health professional. He holds degrees in Physical and Health Education, Psychology, and Education. Find out more about Michael and follow him on his website at www.45andthrive.com, and on Instagram @45andthrive. Questions and comments can be sent to [email protected].
*Disclaimer: The information provided and discussed in this column is based on my personal experience, studies of physical and health education and my expertise as a lifelong fitness and health professional. Any recommendations made about fitness, training, nutrition, supplements or lifestyle, or information provided through this column, should be discussed with your physician or other health-care professional.