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Modern Fitness Mantra: More Muscle, Less Fat!

August 2008
Modern Fitness Mantra: More Muscle, Less Fat!

Are you one of those people who think that if you lead a sedentary lifestyle, your muscle will eventually turn into fat? If so, read on. Muscle and fat (also known as ‘adipose tissue’) are two completely different tissues with entirely different functions. Fat storage takes place in different parts of the body in fat cells. The majority of our fat is stored under the skin in the subcutaneous layer. Visceral fat, which is the dangerous fat, significantly increases the risk of disease and is found surrounding our vital organs such as the heart, liver, kidneys and the abdomen. Whereas fat cells are round in shape, metabolically inactive and take up space in your body, muscle tissue, comprising elongated cells called muscle fibers, are either striated or smooth in appearance and very metabolically active.

The development of fat cells begins in a fetus and continues during childhood and adolescence. Once fat cells are full, they divide in half and separate into two. This division process goes on and on to accommodate excess body fat during adolescence. In adulthood, excess calories in the body are stored as fat by depositing more fat in existing cells (hypertrophy) or by forming new cells (hyperplasia) or a combination of both. Hyperplasia occurs when massive overeating continues and the existing fat cells reach maximal size.

Studies have shown that in young growing rats, exercise is significant in slowing down the rate of fat gain, fat cell size and fat cell number. It is thus theorized that entering adulthood with a reduced number of fat cells will help reduce the likelihood of becoming an overweight adult. It is important then, to stress the need of early prevention of obesity through sensible eating and exercise during youth. Once fat cells are fully developed in the body, they remain for life. A well-nourished body’s primary source of energy is its fat stores. When a person exercises and loses body fat, the fat from the fat cells is burned and the cell itself shrinks and becomes microscopic in size but never disappears. Thus fluctuations in energy have the greatest effect on body fat. If the individual gains extra weight in the future, the size of the fat cells will increase, since body fat is once again stored in the cells. Although not always a safe and smart choice, liposuction is the procedure that permanently removes these fat cells from the body.

Muscles tissue is classified as either skeletal, cardiac or smooth muscle. Skeletal muscle tissue is attached to bones by tendons and is a voluntary muscle (it can be made to contract by conscious effort). Cardiac muscle tissue is involuntary by nature and forms the walls of the heart. Smooth muscle tissue, which is also involuntary, is found in the walls of internal organs such as the intestines, stomach and in blood vessels. Skeletal muscles are the biggest and most powerful muscles in the body and function in the musculoskeletal system, determining the amount of strength and power an individual has.

If one does not do strength training regularly, there will be about half a pound of muscle loss every year after the age of 25. This loss of muscle coupled with a sedentary lifestyle is directly related to a 5 percent decline in one’s metabolic rate with ageing every year, resulting in an increase in body fat. When one’s metabolic function requires fewer calories, any excess calories consumed (if not burned off with exercise) will be stored as body fat. Eventually, with ageing and over time, muscles begin to atrophy and weaken, slowing down one’s metabolism while fat cells increase in size to allow for the storage of excess body fat.

The good news, however, is that this process can be reversed with regular strength training. Studies have shown that a consistent strength training program not only improves bone/joint strength, posture and overall muscular strength, it actually jump starts your metabolism, helps you burn more calories and above all, reverses the ageing process! It is therefore possible for a fifty-year-old individual who strength trains regularly to be stronger and have a younger appearance than someone in his thirties who doesn’t strength train.

Now, if you think that muscles are only for body builders and that your muscles have turned into fat, think again! Muscles are instrumental in the way you look, feel, carry yourself and go about your everyday life. Lugging extra fat cells in your body may cause you to slouch, be lethargic, worry about getting certain diseases and age quicker, whereas building more muscle will make you stand taller, move faster, look younger and smile! So, why not make it “more muscle and less fat”?

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