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  • Writer's pictureJulian Molteno

MUSCLE — The Gift that keeps on Giving

Quite apart from the fact that muscle looks so damn attractive, it gives us some very exciting physiological benefits too. So to help keep our smugness levels topped right up — here are a few! Muscle is a metabolically active, fat-burning tissue. Muscles demand fuel for support, and burn calories as a result. Many fat-burning enzymes are found in muscle, so the more muscle you have, the more calories you burn. For every pound of muscle you add, your body will consume an additional 50 calories each day. When you increase your muscle mass, you boost your resting metabolism — and that makes your body burn more calories. At any given weight, the more muscle on your body, and the less fat, the higher your metabolic rate. So logically, if you can build up your muscle, and reduce your body fat, you'll have a higher resting metabolism and more quickly burn the fuel in your body. 

There are three main ways your body burns energy each day: 1) the basal metabolism — energy used for your body's basic functioning while at rest; 2) the energy used to break down food (also known as the thermic effect of food); and 3) the energy used in physical activity. It is generally accepted that for most people, the basal metabolic rate accounts for 60 to 80 percent of total energy expenditure.  

A cardio workout burns more calories than a training workout, in general you burn more calories per session of cardio than weight-training, for about the same amount of effort. However, weight-training also has other important calorie-burning benefits. Specifically, research has shown that you burn more calories in the hours following a weight-training session, compared to a cardio workout. In fact, there are reports of resting metabolism being elevated for up to 38 hours after weight-training, while no such increase has been reported with cardio. What a pleasure! Lift heavy weights, get a great pump, revel in the feeling of sore (growing!) muscles the next day, and all the while your body is just hoovering up free calories! 

At the extremes of muscle mass, like competitive bodybuilders, more muscle doesn’t always equate to more strength. But for the average person, for the most part, the more muscle you build, the stronger you’ll be. The more strength you have, the more physically prepared you are for everyday activities, making light of the general sort of lifting and carrying that life requires of us. Having strong muscles also lowers the chance of injuring yourself, and helps you to enjoy recreational sports. Perhaps most importantly of all, keeping our strength as we age is of enormous benefit, as strong muscles, with strong legs in particular, help keep us mobile for longer. (My post on Delaying and reversing Frailty spells out the benefits of keeping strength and muscle mass in old age.) There is a powerful psychological benefit to being strong and muscular too. Studies have shown that resistance training leaves people feeling more competent, with greater self-esteem and increased confidence. So there you have it — some, but by no means all, of the benefits of muscle. It looks good, burns calories, increases your metabolism, keeps you mobile for longer as you age, helps prevent injury and boosts your self-esteem. What’s not to like?? 

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