3 Tips To Make Your Muscles Act Younger, From A Functional Medicine Doctor
According to functional medicine doctor Gabrielle Lyon, D.O., muscle mass is the ticket to living a longer life. "Muscle is the organ of longevity, and it really dictates everything about health and wellness," she declares on this episode of the mindbodygreen podcast. Your muscles are so integral to long-term health, in fact, that Lyon even started a "muscle-centric medicine" practice with a focus on benefiting your muscle health through a protein-smart diet, plus exercise and lifestyle shifts.
Some of these shifts can even help your muscles themselves act younger—so you can live longer. Below, find three of Lyon's tips for long-term muscle health:
"If you haven't trained with any focus by the time you're 30, you need to be," says Lyon. Everyone's body is different, but if you can, she recommends a combination of cardiovascular activity (specifically zone 2 training) and resistance training. Zone 2 training really just refers to any cardio workout that gets your heart pumping to the point where you can still hold a conversation, but it might be difficult to do so. "That zone 2 training is critical for mitochondria," notes Lyon. "It's important for glucose utilization for the foods that you're eating, and overall it provides a base."
However, it's not enough: "In your 30s, I really believe everybody should be doing three to four days a week of hypertrophy training," she adds. Hypertrophy training is all about increasing muscle mass, namely through weight training. "As opposed to [using] much heavier weight and lower volume, the volume is important," Lyon adds. (Meaning, more sets and reps with less intensity.) "This is really about growing your muscles," she notes, and strong muscles are crucial for sustaining longevity.
Partial to a post-workout protein shake? Well, according to Lyon, only a select set actually needs to refuel immediately after exercise. "If you are younger, the post-training window for protein doesn't really matter," she explains, assuming you're able to meet your general protein goals for the day. However, "As you get older, the blood flow to the muscles increases post-training, and there's really good data1 to suggest that older muscle can respond like younger muscle post-training2 with the addition of dietary protein."
That said, "I would say 30 grams of protein post-training is a great strategy for nearly everybody," she adds. And again, everyone has different nutritional needs and benchmarks, but if you are thinking about adding some post-workout protein to your routine, she recommends making sure your protein powder has a high amount of leucine. "This one branch chain amino acid, leucine, is a triggering mechanism that turns on skeletal muscle3," she notes.
"The biggest danger I see as people transition from 40 to 50 is that there comes a time where they stop pushing [themselves]," Lyon says. It's so easy to simply go through the motions with exercise, but you don't want your muscles to ever get too comfortable. You want to keep challenging yourself with your workouts, especially as you get older. "You cannot show up in your 60s and 70s and just go through the motions," Lyon adds. "You have to really be cognizant of actually putting in effort and progressing."
The bottom line? The best exercise is the one you'll actually do (that's our MO here at mindbodygreen), but make sure you continue to progress and get stronger with time. You never want to become complacent.
We've discussed plenty of longevity-supporting foods and lifestyle habits here at mindbodygreen. But according to Lyon, muscles play an integral role on the road to a longer lifespan, and we should pay more attention to muscle mass as we age. "Muscle is one of the only tissues we can control. We have conscious control over this organ system," she notes. "Muscle is the pinnacle, not the periphery, of health and wellness."
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Jason Wachob is the Founder and Co-CEO of mindbodygreen and the author of Wellth. He has been featured in the New York Times, Entrepreneur, Fast Company, and Vogue, and has a B.A. in history from Columbia University, where he played varsity basketball for four years.