A ripped rig looks great, but it’s not all about aesthetics. Having strong muscles throughout life is a powerful play for your health, too.
“Muscle, or what we refer to as lean tissue, keeps your metabolism working at an efficient rate,” explains Cameron Falloon, a former AFL strength and conditioning coach and founder of Body Fit Training.
“In adulthood we tend to lose lean tissue, and therefore our metabolism naturally slows down.” You can press pause on this process, however, by focusing on ways to maintain muscle strength.
A strong body also keeps your immune system cranking. Not only does muscle store and release amino acids that are used to fight infection and repair wounds, German researchers recently discovered that skeletal muscle may bolster the body’s defences by replenishing exhausted immune cells.
The best news? You don’t have to pump iron or do endless burpees to tap these benefits. Here’s five smart ways to keep your muscles strong.
1. Find a feel-good workout
You need to do resistance exercise – but that doesn’t have to mean lifting weights. “It could be swimming, stand-up paddle-boarding. Even walking is a form of resistance exercise,” Falloon points out.
Climbing some stairs or doing bodyweight moves such as squats and lunges is an easy way to get strong. The important thing is to find workouts you enjoy.
As Falloon explains, doing the kind of resistance exercise that builds strength is really important from both a physical and psychological perspective. “It releases endorphins, which are fantastic for your mental state. So you get the benefit of increasing your bone density as well as your lean tissue, which helps you to live day-to-day life a lot easier.”
2. Stretch it out
Don’t skip the cool-down – stretching plays a key role in keeping muscles strong and flexible.
“Tight muscles will eventually become weak muscles,” Falloon explains. “So, it’s really important that you stretch as well as strengthen.”
While any stretch session is good, yoga and Pilates are a win-win because they build endurance while lengthening muscles.
3. Hit the pillow
Fun fact: it’s not until after your workout is done that the gains really kick in. Resistance exercise creates microscopic tears in the muscle fibres, and your body’s work patching up the damage is what grows your muscles.
“Sleep is really critical, because that’s when the body repairs itself,” says Falloon. “When it comes to recovery, sleep is the best thing that you can do.”
4. Snack smart
Powerful muscles are fuelled by a balanced diet, full of lean meats and dairy, fruit and veg and wholegrains. Forget the fads and aim for a mix of protein and carbohydrates at every meal.
“Both are critical to maintaining healthy, lean tissue, but also giving you the energy to train,” says Falloon.
You can supercharge your results by eating a nutrient-rich snack in the half-hour window after your strength session. Falloon suggests a hard-boiled egg or banana – an egg offers protein and healthy fats, while a banana delivers energy-boosting carbs and potassium, which helps to reduce cramps.
5. Drink up
Water is an underrated muscle-strengthening hero. “Every process in your body is reliant on hydration at a cellular level,” says Falloon, so staying hydrated ensures you make the most of your workouts and recover efficiently.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule around how much water is best – it depends on everything from the weather to your activity levels. But, as a general guide, women should aim for 2 litres and men 2.6 litres across the day to ensure muscles are fully quenched.
It’s never too late to start looking after your muscles. Ensure* is a specifically formulated nutritional health shake containing high quality protein for muscle health, calcium for bone health and Vitamin D to support normal muscle function. Find out more at www.ensure.com.au.
*Food for special medical purposes. Use under medical supervision.