To live better longer: less weight or more muscle?

When I was at the gym today, I noticed an interesting trend…

While the majority of the women there spent their time on the treadmills, elliptical machines and stationary bikes, never venturing to the weight machines, most of the men went from one set of weights to the other, only occasionally adding in aerobic activity.

The difference was so pronounced that I actually asked two different women if they ever tried weights, and if not, why, and got the same answer from both…

They were trying to lose weight to get healthier and felt like the way to do it was through exercises that got their heart rate up and burned fat, not through building muscle.

That got me wondering – which really is the most important for your health and longevity?

Luckily, that question was recently answered by UCLA researchers.

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Overall body composition for a win

The study, published in the American Journal of Medicine, is the culmination of previous UCLA research that found that building muscle mass is important in decreasing metabolic risk, leading them to look directly into which you should be worried about, your weight or your muscle mass.

And, it was no small project…

The researchers took into account the muscle mass index (amount of muscle relative to height) of individuals over the age of 55 between 1988 and 1994. And, then looked at how many of those individuals had died from natural causes by 2004 to see how this muscle mass index was related to the risk of death.

They found that the risk of death from any cause was significantly lower in those with the highest muscle mass index compared with those with the lowest.

In other words, the greater your muscle mass, the lower your risk of death.

And, just to make it completely clear, the researchers had this to say, “Rather than worrying about weight or body mass index, we should be trying to maximize and maintain muscle mass.

Improving your body composition

Another way to look at it is that if you want to live to a ripe old age, you should focus on improving your body composition. While building more muscle relative to your height is vital to accomplishing this, it’s also important to lose any excess fat.

To get started, follow these steps:

  1. Know where you are now – You’ll want to keep track of your progress as you go, so be sure to take your measurements before you begin. An easy way to do this is to keep track of your body circumference by picking easy areas of your body to measure (think upper arm, thigh, hips, and waist). Just be sure to make note of exactly where you measure on each part of your body to get reliable numbers.
  2. Take pictures – Besides measuring, it’s also a good idea to take your “Before” pictures so that you can see the small changes you’re making as you go along.
  3. Up your protein – Protein is important when you’re trying to increase the level of muscle in your body. And, it comes with two big benefits… It helps you burn more calories and it helps you feel full faster than when you eat carbs.
  4. Slim down – Reducing the amount of fat in your body means improving your diet and upping your exercise level. Good exercises to lose fat include Interval workouts (you can do these on a treadmill, bike or even a step), yoga and weight training.
  5. Tone up – Now it’s time to build that muscle so don’t fear the weights. Just start small and build your way up. And, if weights just aren’t for you, you can also build lean body mass through exercises like Pilates and even bodyweight exercises like squats and lunges.

When it comes down to it, your weight matters less than your muscle mass for longevity. Build your muscle mass and improve your body composition using the steps above to grab as many years as you can.

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

By Dr. Adria Schmedthorst

Dr. Adria Schmedthorst is a board-certified Doctor of Chiropractic, with more than 20 years of experience. She has dedicated herself to helping others enjoy life at every age through the use of alternative medicine and natural wellness options. Dr. Schmedthorst enjoys sharing her knowledge with the alternative healthcare community, providing solutions for men and women who are ready to take control of their health the natural way.