Muscles aren’t just for bodybuilders. They’re for everyone. We are physiologically designed to have a fair amount of muscle mass built through regular exercise. Muscle mass that allows us to metabolize carbohydrates efficiently, recover from injury or illness, and maintain our strength, resilience and health into old age.
The importance of muscle mass, strength, and metabolic function in the performance of exercise, as well as the activities of daily living has never been questioned. However, the role our muscles play in whole-body protein metabolism is less recognized.
Our muscle plays a central role in our whole-body protein metabolism by serving as the principle reservoir for amino acids to maintain protein synthesis (growth and regeneration) in vital tissues and organs in the absence of consuming enough protein in our diet. In other words, if we don’t get enough protein in our diet, our body breaks down muscle mass in order to make the necessary amino acids we need to survive. Thus, having muscle mass is crucial in the recovery process from long-term illnesses such as cancer, pneumonia, and heart disease.
Additionally, new research points to a key role that muscle metabolism plays in the prevention of many pathologic conditions and chronic diseases. Loss of muscle is associated with weakness, fatigue, insulin resistance, fractures, and frailty. Many of the degenerative conditions that are associated with aging are caused by poor muscle health.
As a consequence of the sedentary modern lifestyle, we’re seeing all the dangers of muscle atrophy: osteoporosis, diabetes, obesity, fragile bones, and difficulty recovering from stress. These problems are not normal, and they don’t have to be inevitable parts of life. While muscle alone isn’t a miracle cure, building healthy muscle mass and maintaining it past middle age is one way to preserve good health and prevent the diseases of our modern time.