5 reasons building muscle instead of losing fat makes you healthier

When you look at yourself in the mirror every morning to make sure your fly’s zipped, your cowlick’s tamed and your green smoothie didn’t give you a “mustache,” it’s easy to get hung up on one thing…

The few extra pounds that magically appeared on your belly, hips, butt, elbows… or wherever the extra calories from your nightly ice cream sundaes go (okay, so maybe it wasn’t magic).

Pretty soon, you’re swearing not to touch another carton of Rocky Road for the rest of your life and shopping for elliptical machines online.

But as easy as it is to get fixated on fat, there’s something that’s far more important than shedding those few pesky pounds…

Building muscle.

In fact, there’s lots of evidence that building muscle is far better for you than losing fat…

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Why muscle makes a bigger health impact than fat

Researchers from the Medical College of Georgia are in the midst of a study that could make muscle the focus of everybody’s attention instead of fat.

They’ve been following 400 pairs of twins to figure out how muscle and fat affect health. Studying twins makes it easier for them to see how factors besides genetics play into the amount of fat and muscle someone has.

Now, these researchers started this study because they’re convinced that muscle makes a bigger difference in your health than fat, and they want to prove it. But the fact is, there’s already convincing evidence that supports their theory….

  1. We already know that muscle helps set our metabolic homeostasis (how efficiently our entire body runs).
  2. Muscle also makes us more sensitive to insulin. And as you probably know, being less sensitive to insulin sets you up for diabetes.
  3. Muscle also takes more glucose from your bloodstream, because it needs it to fuel muscle cells. So, muscle has double the diabetes-fighting benefits.
  4. Plus, your body burns more energy maintaining muscle than fat (so you’ll burn off those sundaes much faster if you build a little muscle first).
  5. Lastly, when your muscles contract, they release small proteins called myokines. Myokines reduce inflammation and help your organs communicate with one another. In fact, in the study I mentioned earlier, researchers are examining exactly how myokines influence health. Check back for the answer. But in the meantime, it’s clear… you better start building more muscle!

How to build more muscle now

You probably still don’t love that extra fat that popped up on your belly, but my advice? Don’t focus on it. Fretting about fat won’t make it go away. But building muscle will probably help. It causes you to burn more calories, after all… even if you’re just sitting around.

But what’s the best way to build more muscle?

Resistance training.

There are three ways to tackle resistance training. You can use free weights. You can use machines. Or you can use your own bodyweight. I prefer the last option because it’s free.

Related: Resistance exercise: What you need to know

The bodyweight exercises I turn to again and again to improve my muscle strength are:

  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Planks
  • Push-ups
  • Burpees

But when you’re first getting started with bodyweight resistance training, it’s best not to wing it. Try a video or in-person class with an instructor who can guide you and (let’s be real) challenge you more than you’d probably challenge yourself. Here’s a short bodyweight resistance training video to get you started.

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  1. Strengthening muscle may be healthier than losing fat — MedicalXpress
  2. Strength and Resistance Training Exercise — American Heart Association
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.