As you age, there are many systems of your body that you may think you need to keep healthy. Your heart, eyes, ears, brain, lungs, and liver may all come to mind, but what about your muscles? Keeping your muscles healthy during the aging process can help you be more active, feel better, and keep you doing the things you love to do. But, before we talk about why keeping your muscles healthy is important, let’s talk about how to do that, and that starts by discussing what muscles do in the first place.
To put it simply, muscles contract, or generate tension. This may feel like your muscles are squeezing or tightening up. This contraction is what allows muscles to help move your bones and joints, maintain your posture, and do all of the activities throughout your day. If certain muscles cannot contract, your bones and joints will not be able to move as well and you may not be able to do the activities you enjoy most.
So, if we are going to talk about how to keep muscles healthy, we need to talk about how to keep them contracting. I am going to break this down into three sections. First, can your muscles even initiate a contraction to begin with? Second, can your muscles contract at different lengths, from really short to really long? Finally, can your muscles create different amounts of contraction?
Figuring out whether your muscles can even initiate a contraction is step one. At Muscle Activation Schaumburg, we use the Muscle Activation Techniques® (MAT®) process to do this. Essentially, MAT® is assessing your body to figure out where your muscles are not working as well as they are supposed to work, i.e. not contracting. We are then able to address those muscles on a muscle by muscle basis. For more information about Muscle Activation Techniques® and what makes an MAT® practitioner unique, click here. You can also find a certified specialist in your area here.
Once your muscles are contracting, you then need to make sure they can contract at different lengths, from their shortest length to their longest length. Often times, when it comes to changing the length of muscle, you may think about stretching. However, there are two problems with this thought. The first problem is that stretching only deals with the lengthened position of a muscle. You don’t stretch a muscle to make it shorter, so if you are trying to make sure the muscle works well from it’s lengthened to its shortened position, this is a limitation with stretching. Secondly, you have to keep in mind that the number one job of muscles is to contract.
Stretching has more to do with helping muscles relax than it does with helping them contract – in fact, static stretching has been shown to decrease how well a muscle can contract. As such, stretching doesn’t fit this definition of helping muscles work better.
So, what does this second step look like? Much like how MAT® can help a muscle contract in its shortened position, you now need to make sure that it can carry over to the mid range and lengthened position. While we often see this carry over in contraction as a result of MAT®, following up the MAT® work with some strategically-designed, internally-focused resistance training is a welcomed next step. This type of exercise is different than just lifting weights. It is exercise that is purposefully designed to strategically challenge muscles to change how they function. A description of this kind of exercise can be found here.
Finally, once you get your muscles contracting and able to contract at various lengths, you need to get them to be able to increase the amount they are contracting. Superficially, we call this increasing strength, but again, this will include doing strategically-designed, internally-focused resistance training. This slight shift in focus when you are exercising can help you attain tremendous results.
Once you can get passed the idea that exercise is about burning calories, getting your heart rate up, breaking a sweat, and breathing heavy and get to the idea that exercise is about strategically challenging your body so your body is healthier, functioning better, and in a better place at the end of your workout than at the beginning, you can start to glean the immense health benefits that exercise can provide.
Why is it important for you to be proactive about doing things that improve and maintain the health of your muscular system? The answer is simple. One of the definitive markers of aging is losing the physical ability to do the things you want to do. There are a number of systems that contribute to you being able to do the things you enjoy most, but one of the most influential systems is your muscular system!
If you feel like your body is not able to do the things you want to do, take a look at your muscular system. Get an assessment to figure out if your muscles can initiate a contraction, can contract at different lengths, and can increase the amount they can contract. Increasing these three things can have a massive impact on your ability to doing the things you want to do for as long as you want to do them.