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Weighing benefits of greater muscle mass

Published: Wednesday, May 15, 2013 1:15 a.m. CDT

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Have you ever heard the riddle that asks “Which is heavier, a pound of feathers or a pound of gold?” My question is, which one takes up more space? 

Consider your body. While a pound of body fat may weigh exactly the same as a pound of muscle, if placed side by side the pound of fat will be larger. This explains why an athlete with more muscle but little fat tissue may actually weigh more than someone who looks larger than they are. A person who weighs the same but who has higher body fat will be larger because fat takes up more space. 

Excess body fat is not just a problem when it comes to your size. The extra fat can negatively affect your health. It can hurt your heart by building cholesterol, raising blood pressure and clogging arteries. Excess fat also impacts the hormone insulin, leading to diabetes, and increasing heart disease risk. Carrying around extra weight stresses hips and knees and can cause back problems.

Also, according to the National Cancer Institute, there are several studies that connect excess weight with certain cancers, especially cancers of the esophagus, breast (postmenopausal), endometrium (the lining of the uterus), colon and rectum, kidney, pancreas, thyroid, gallbladder, and possibly others.  

Having more muscle is a good thing. The more muscle you have, the better you are able to handle all of the physical demands of your day. That might mean lifting groceries or a grandchild, or being able to climb stairs. Having more muscle allows you to stay strong so you can care for yourself and remain independent longer. More muscle tissue enables the body to use calories more efficiently. In fact, muscle uses up to twice as many calories as fat. Building and maintaining muscles can help to prevent injury, alleviate the symptoms of arthritis, and improve bone strength.  

To reduce body fat, you need to eat less and engage in aerobic or cardiovascular activity. To build more muscle, add some strength training exercises to your routine on 2 or 3 non-consecutive days each week. You could go to a gym and use weight-lifting machines, but you don’t have to. You can use the weight of your own body to do push-ups, sit-ups, and squats or lunges. You can also use dumbbells or stretch bands. And if you would like to use a gym, find one with a personal trainer or a class where you can learn to do all of the above safely. 

Our bodies seem to lose muscle mass as we age, so it is important to preserve what we have and build more if we can. You might say that muscles are worth their weight in gold. 

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