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Why Your Muscle Health Matters

How important is muscle health? House Call Doctor investigates in the first of a three-part series.

By
Sanaz Majd, MD,
August 22, 2017

This is the first in a three-part series on muscle health that I have done in partnership with Ensure.  However, the opinions I express in these articles are all my own.

How important is muscle health? This is a question most of us don’t consider carefully as we age.  Most of us  know about bone health and the importance of osteoporosis prevention and treatment as we get older. But thinking about muscle health is just as critical.healthy woman working out

As a child, I remember admiring the occasional in-shape celebrity, such as Jane Fonda. Yet most people don’t realize that after age 40, adults can lose up to 8% of muscle mass per decade.

There are many reasons to prioritize muscle health. Muscles are critical for strength and energy—and helping our body recover and promote healing.  But if your body doesn’t get enough of the nutrients it needs to recover – like protein - it breaks down muscle tissue. This kind of muscle loss is associated with delayed recovery from illness, slowed healing, and a poorer quality of life.  Also, pain prevention: the best way to prevent pain associated with aging is to keep your muscles healthy. One scientific study found that people who workout on a regular basis have a lower risk of low back pain.

So let’s devote the next three articles to this highly vital yet often overlooked topic: how to keep your muscles healthy as you age.

What Does Muscle Do?

Why should we care about our muscles? Well, in order to understand why our muscles matter, we need to comprehend what physiologic functions muscle serves in our bodies.

Muscles, like all other tissues in our body, are made up of tiny cells. These cells in the muscle, however, are referred to as “muscle fibers” because of their elongated shape.

There are actually three different types of muscles in our bodies:

1. Skeletal Muscle

This is what we think of when we refer to the typical muscle—for example the biceps and triceps. Skeletal muscle helps produce movement and/or provide resistance. These are also the muscle types that maintain proper posture and muscle tone.

Their fibers are referred to as “striated” because of their striped appearance under the microscope. When grouped together, they attach to our bony skeleton via the muscle tendons. Hence, when we refer to tendonitis, we are referring to these inflamed attachments. They also may attach to ligaments, cartilage, and sometimes directly to the involved organ. 

Besides the obvious skeletal muscles, there are a few less conspicuous culprits: the eyeball is moved by skeletal muscle, as are the muscles of the face, and even the tongue.

Skeletal muscle is categorized as being voluntary because (most of the time) we have control over them.

In order to understand why our muscles matter, we need to comprehend what physiologic functions muscle serves in our bodies.

2. Smooth Muscle

These tend to coat the walls of our blood vessels, gastrointestinal tract, urinary tract, and the uterus. They help propel blood, food particles, urine, fluid, and produce peristalsis (the wave-like motion of the GI tract) within these lumens. They also appear “smooth under a microscope due to the lack of those stripes—hence the name.

These muscles are involuntary because we can’t control them and they function on their own.

3. Cardiac Muscle

Believe it or not, your heart is a muscle called a cardiac muscle. This type comprises the third  muscle group in our bodies. The walls of our heart are made of cardiac muscle, along with some of the surrounding large blood vessels like the aorta, and they contract and relax as our heart beats and functions.

And of course, cardiac muscle is also involuntary in the same way as smooth muscle—thankfully so! It’s because of involuntary cardiac muscle that we can sleep at night without having to actively keep our hearts beating.

Now that we are familiar with the three types of muscles and what they do, we need to learn about how the aging process affects our muscle through time—plus, what we can do to keep our muscles as healthy as possible as we grow older. If you aren't able to consume sufficient protein in your diet, then one way you can do this is with the help of Ensure High-Energy Protein. It helps provide the energy and strength that facilitates an active lifestyle.

Keep up to date with House Call Doctor as I dissect these topics in the next several weeks.

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