December 11, 2016
A client of mine recently shared his concerns that the BMI the charts were projecting for him as optimal was so low he wondered if he'd ever get there. We had a long discussion (which I won't record here...remember the body is a complete ecosystem so a simple blog really isn't enough space!) but let's focus on just a portion of our conversation re the relationship of increased muscle mass specifically to deduced disease risk.
First, though, let me back up and ask did you know that BMI was actually invented by a couple of insurance agents in the '50's as a tool for assessing insurance risk and viability? It's a simple formula, really, more about height vs weight than anything else.
How much BODYFAT you're carrying around, on the other hand, has a lot more to do with your overall health and longevity than your BMI for several reasons.
For instance a very muscle-y person can weigh exactly the same as a totally sedentary person but be at a MUCH lower risk for death. Let's just look at the disease risk aspect of what I just said.
Here are a few excerpts from the Forward of a WONDERFUL book published by Men's Health Magazine called "The Big Book of Exercises" (almost like an encyclopedia of exercises broken down by muscle group...you really ought to check it out!)
Building muscle through good old fashioned strength training exercise (and that means any exercise that works out skeletal muscle using bodyweight only, or any combination of free weights, bands, and machines) actually WARDS OFF the following 3 diseases:
1. High Blood pressure
Pumping iron really does get your blood flowing. Researchers at the University of Michigan found that people who performed three total-body weight workouts per week for 2 months decreased diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) by an average of eight points. That's enough to reduce the risk of a stroke by 40 percent, and the risk of a heart attack by 15 percent.
Call it muscle medication. In a 4-month study, Austrian scientists found that people with type-2 diabetes who started strength training significantly lowered their blood sugar levels, improving their condition. Just as important, lifting may be one of the best ways to prevent diabetes in the first place. That's because it not only fights the fat that puts you at an increased risk for the disease but also improves your sensitivity to the hormone insulin. This helps keep your blood sugar under control, reducing the likelihood that you'll develop diabetes.
Don't settle for an ounce of prevention; weights may offer it by the pound. A University of Florida study found that people who performed three resistance training workouts a week for 6 months experienced significantly less oxidative cell damage than non-lifters. That's important since damaged cells can lead to cancer and other diseases. And in a study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, scientists discovered that resistance training speeds the rate at which food is moved through your large intestine by up to 56 percent, an effect that's thought to reduce the risk for colon cancer.
(Oh and by the way, that very muscle-y person who weighs exactly the same as the totally sedentary person is also about HALF THE SIZE of the sedentary person, has more energy, sleeps better, has a better sex life, and probably has an overall happier life...just sayin!)
Illustration courtesy of Leif Parsons
To learn more about the relationship specifically between strength training and lowering blood pressure, click here