In the 1960’s Dr. Kenneth Cooper launched a fitness revolution that was primarily focused on aerobic activity, the important benefits of which we know combat cardiovascular disease—the number one cause of death in the US. Attention to the ability of our muscular-skeletal system was primarily left to body builders, competitive athletes, and people seeking to be heavily muscled. We now know that attention to muscular strength and endurance is critical for longevity and quality of life, injury prevention and joint integrity, metabolic health, and even emotional strength.
Muscular strength is technically defined as the amount of force a muscle or muscle group can generate in one all-out effort; while muscular endurance refers to repeated, submaximal muscular contractions. For the average person, one maximal exertion of force is rarely required in our activities of daily living; however, having strong and capable muscles does allow us to move through our life and execute our submaximal muscular work with ease, avoiding injury. Think carrying grocery bags, vacuuming, snow shoveling, yard work, moving furniture etc., these types of activities require muscular endurance/submaximal strength and movement patterns that are enabled by our muscular-skeletal system’s ability to support us through the repeated contractions. Maintaining muscular ability, balance, and range of motion around our joint structures, provides support for our joints allowing the musculature to absorb the work, while protecting the integrity of the joints.
At rest every pound of muscle tissue utilizes approximately three times more energy than fat tissue and this results in a higher basal metabolic rate even when you are sleeping. Metabolism slows with age; however, maintaining our muscle mass is one way to impede the downslope of metabolism experienced throughout the lifespan. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends a minimum of two, non-consecutive days of moderate overload to all the major muscle groups per week. At the beginning, the overload can come from just positioning the body using body weight and gravity to improve the muscles’ ability to contract—modified push-ups, leg extensions seated in a chair, half curl-ups with knees bent on the floor. Eventually we can add some form of overload—soup can/milk jug/weight—to the muscle work.
Performing these muscle-maintenance activities enhances our ability to carry out activities of daily living more effortlessly and in turn, informs our emotional perception of our capability to manage. Emotional strength can be derived from physical ability; watching and feeling yourself complete tasks, or exercise-related movement, provides a priceless input connecting us with our body, highlighting who you are and what you can do. The muscular-skeletal system was designed to get us up and moving, away from harm, towards sustenance—there is no doubt it was meant to be used to our benefit.