Health check: how strong are your muscles?

By on August 5, 2013

Since the advent of computers, games and smartphones, the number of hours people spend seated is at least 10 hours a day. There is much to suggest  that technology has absolutely taken over people’s precious hours disabling them to sneak workouts into their day. To say that people sit longer in front of the computer than they sleep, is no longer an understatement.

In a 2011 wellness research conducted by Japan’s Labour office, an overwhelming 85.1 % of business people feel they lack exercise with 55.8% very concerned about their overall physique.

When the body gets accustomed to a sedentary lifestyle, the pace of muscle activity slows down and so too does metabolism.  As a result, fat is distributed all over the body.

Losing muscle mass is inevitable for the young and old. In fact, scientists say between 30-40% of muscle loss happens to people from 20 until 80 years old. So what can be done to reverse this?   Scientists say only by staying active can one delay the process.  Building muscles in the right place is essential to maintaining overall body strength.   I need not stress enough that muscles are responsible for the smooth functioning of the body.  The muscles give bones the basic ability to move, stabilize the joints and promote heat in the body.   That is why when you suffer a fall, the body of a muscled person heals a lot faster than that of the one who has less.  This also explains why people with muscles feel less cold in the winter.

Now here’s a health checklist and how to benefit enormously from gaining muscles:

1.  Do you get enough sleep?
If you work in the office for extended hours seated and then take long hours again in front of the computer (which many of us do after Facebook was born), you lose sleep.  Sleep is when muscle repair happens.  Getting only a few six or fewer hours of it limits the body’s natural production of growth hormones that are responsible for muscle building.

2.  Are you eating enough?
Many people fear that extra calories add fat to the bodies but if you are doing intense workouts, most of it should grow muscles.  Muscles only grow with a surplus of calories.  Are you eating enough protein?  The more protein you consume, the more you give your muscles the chance to heal post workout. How much calories you need depends on your lifestyle.  Someone who does intense workouts quite regularly will need something between 1,500 – 2,000 while a sedentary person is required to eat at least 1,200 calories a day.

Are you one of those who eat at very irregular intervals or not eating at all?  When you do not eat for more than three hours, your capacity to burn energy slows down and most of it will be stored in your fat pockets.

3.  How are you training?
Do you focus your workouts only on specific areas such as the biceps?  Doing this is not okay.   That’s because almost 70% of the body’s muscles is right in your legs and back.  Also muscle imbalances can injure the body. Do you change your workout routine from time to time or do you stick to the same thing every time?   Not changing your workout means you are not raising the bar but staying in your comfort zone. Remember  pushing yourself a bit is the key to new muscle growth and strength. Are you working out but hate stretching?  Let me tell you this. Stretching is very important.  It widens the range of muscle motion, speeds up recovery and make more muscle fi ber space.  What time of the day do you do cardio?  When you wake up in the morning, notice that your stomach is smaller than the night before.  That’s because the body is burning muscles.  So when you work out immediately in the morning on an empty stomach, you burn the muscle as fuel instead of the calories you should have taken at breakfast.

Do you know when you are doing too much?  Doing too many number of sets and reps to the point of total exhaustion is a recipe for inflammation and not actual muscle growth.   More than 15 reps per set could leave the muscles swollen at best.

4.   Do you take protein shakes?
Do you chug protein shakes to replenish lost glycogen (a substance in the body tissues that stores energy)?  If you do not, know that protein shakes help in a big way in repairing muscle and providing endurance to grow more of it.

5.   Do you take creatine?
Creatine is an amino acid that supplies energy to cells in the body most especially the primary muscles.  But because people have varying health conditions, it is not for everyone.  You should always consult medical professionals before taking it. Essentially creatine works for lifters to get bigger and stronger muscles faster.

What are the pros and cons of taking Creatine for men and women you might ask? Nathan Schmid, managing director and master personal trainer at Club 360 in Tokyo says,  “Creatine is a compound that is naturally produced in the body from reactions involving 3 different amino acids and is derived from foods such as red meat and fish. Up to 95% of creatine is stored in skeletal muscle, where it contributes to production of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP), which is your body’s main energy source. By supplementing your diet with additional creatine, it is possible to increase the amount of available ATP for use in activities requiring large amounts of force or power to be generated (i.e. sprinting, weightlifting).

The effects of creatine have been well documented in the literature and include improvements in measures of muscular strength and power, as well as increased muscle mass, and these effects appear to be greatest when the ingestion of the supplement is in close proximity to the training stimulus. There is also considerable research to show positive effects of creatine supplementation in delaying the onset of sarcopenia (muscle loss) in older individuals. There is no research to indicate any long term side effects from the use of creatine supplementation although anecdotally some users report suffering abdominal bloating and/or cramping.

One of the other effects of creatine use is an increase in fluid retention which often leads to a slight amount of weight gain, depending on the user. Women can experience the same benefits of creatine as men although their ability to gain lean muscle mass is limited due to differences in hormonal profi le. For some women wishing to gain strength without “bulking up” creatine may not be the best solution as the above mentioned fluid retention may lead to weight gain. There is some research that suggests taking 2g per day as apposed to the regularly prescribed 5-10g may provide female users with some of the benefits of creatine without the fluid retention although the weight of this evidence is not strong.

Interestingly, one study conducted in Utah showed that use of creatine supplementation was effective in decreasing levels of
depression among women.”

Tim Furukawa is a professional fitness coach.

About Tim Furukawa