Lean Body Mass: A #1 Biomarker of Health and Aging

When most people think of muscle, they think of the functional aspects––strength and/or appearance. But the fact of the matter is that decades of research are highlighting more clearly than ever that muscle tissue is one of the most important indicators of aging and longevity, one of the strongest indicators of overall health, and one of the strongest indicators of disease resistance. Dr. Brett Osborn, Section Chief of Trauma Neurosurgery at St. Mary’s Hospital in Florida, told me that “I routinely look at the muscle composition of all my patients which immediately gives me a barometer of how well they will withstand the injury, the surgery, and how quickly they will recover. Muscle is a critical reservoir of the proteins needed to heal and fight disease”. It is also a protein reserve that helps our body deal with stress without breaking down.

Lean muscle keeps us stronger and healthier even in younger years, and more so as Father Time marches along. Loss of muscle mass is called sarcopenia, and it is typically used to refer to the muscle loss associated with aging or disease. The statistics on sarcopenia in our society, a society which includes 40% of the population being obese and another 30% being overweight, are alarming. A quick search online will show all sorts of statistics, some worse than others, but none are good news!

So why do studies show that people actually start to lose muscle in their thirties? First remember that statistics on the general population study the mass population, and not people who follow the Lean Body lifestyle of exercise, resistance training, and healthy eating. For most of the population, a study in the Journal of Nutrition has shown that while peak muscle mass occurs in the mid-twenties, people lose an average of 6.6 pounds of muscle for each decade, and at age 50 they begin losing a whopping pound of muscle per year. That’s crazy!

Muscle tissue keeps us strong, mobile, and prevents falling as we age. The statistics on fall accidents alone are staggering as a whopping one in four people over age 65 will fall at some point. It is the number one reason for emergency room admissions in the elderly and fall injuries, which can include broken bones or head trauma (read brain injury) cost over $50 billion per year collectively!

And let’s not forget another critical benefit of muscle tissue – the fact that muscle cells are some of the most metabolically active cells in our bodies and burn many times more calories than fat cells. So, the more muscle you have the more you need to eat to maintain that muscle without getting fat. So gaining muscle begins a positive cycle, whereas losing muscle and gaining fat begins a negative cycle of burning fewer calories, slower metabolism, higher levels of systemic inflammation, insulin resistance, much higher predisposition to diabetes, and risks of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

These days, given the fact that almost three-quarters of the U.S. population is either overweight or obese, most people mistakenly believe that losing muscle mass is just a normal consequence of the aging process. It is not! Don’t believe that! So what causes the typical loss of muscle tissue with aging in our country? A sedentary lifestyle, lack of proper exercise that must include some form of resistance training, and a lack of adequate dietary protein intake.

To make matters worse, the same factors that result in the loss of muscle tissue, also result in an increase in fat tissue. Unfortunately, this often masks the problem as limb dimensions may not change, but the composition of those limb dimensions, in terms of percentage of fat versus muscle, does change. We also know that the reverse is true in that if someone begins training with resistance exercise, their limb dimensions may stay the same, but their weight goes up because muscle weighs more than the fat tissue it is replacing. Therefore body composition is much more of a significant indicator of health and longevity than is body weight.

Let me be direct: While an active lifestyle is a good thing- such as walking, using an elliptical trainer or stationary bike-and can reduce overall health risks, it is not enough to maintain our muscle tissue. Resistance exercise is essential to maintain muscle mass and bone density as we age! In parallel, protein needs can actually increase with age. And, in the face of lower levels of digestive enzymes, protein drinks like Lean Body RTD’s provide excellent amino acid balance and require minimal digestion. 

Addressing or correcting these factors is a simple matter of choice. Aging, as they say, is inevitable, but how we age is a result of the lifestyle choices we make. Enjoy life! Make the most of it! Keep working out and eating right, not just to add years to your life, but life to your years!

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About the Author: Dr. Tom Deters

Dr. Tom Deters is the former Editor in chief and publisher of Muscle & Fitness magazine and publisher of both FLEX and Men’s Fitness magazines. He has published hundreds of articles and given hundreds of seminars on training, performance nutrition, diet strategy and bodyfat control.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.