Muscle Health/Physical Activity/Exercise: Do These Equal a Healthy Well-Being?
Thomas B. Gilliam, Ph.D.
Full disclosure before I begin this paper, I have a Ph.D. in Exercise Physiology and I have been working in this profession for 50 years. So, I am biased toward the benefits of physical activity.
I have read a great deal of research regarding lifestyle, disease, and prevention in multiple disciplines related to physical activity. And as a tenured faculty member at the University of Michigan, I was a principal investigator on a NIH grant to study heart disease risk in first, second and third graders in 1977.
The research in the 1970’s, 1980’s and 1990’s overwhelmingly showed the positive impact physical activity had on health – most of the research was on the reduction of blood pressure, obesity and cardiovascular disease and focused on aerobic activities such as walking, biking, swimming and the like. But at the beginning of the 21st century, more research on muscle was being done to study the impact of a healthy muscle mass on the health and well-being of the individual. One of the top scientific organizations to lead the way on promoting muscle strengthening was the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM).
It wasn’t until 2007 that the “Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans” included muscle strengthening as a recommendation but it was only for Americans between ages 18-65. In 2008, the guidelines were modified to include all adults ages 18 and older and added youth 6-17 years. Also, in 2007, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) and the American Medical Association (AMA) co-launched Exercise is Medicine® (EIM) – a United States-based health initiative that has since been coordinated by ACSM.
Many meta-analyses have been published in the last 10-years that show the positive impact muscle health and physical activity have on the well-being of the individual with focus in recent years on mental health, including fewer incidents of suicide. Severinsen reported that physical activity and exercise training decrease the risk of dementia and appear to play a role in the treatment of the disease.
Recently, the research also showed those who were physically active had fewer incidences of COVID and if in fact they got COVID the incidence of death was less.
Just recently, Dr. Liang-Kung Chen published an editorial in Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics entitled “Skeletal Muscle: A Key Determinant of Healthy Aging”. Dr. Chen in his editorial provides multiple examples and research to support why muscle is critical to the healthy aging process and its positive impact on the immune system, anti-inflammatory process and chronic diseases such as Type II diabetes. He concludes by stating, “skeletal muscle emerges as a critical component of healthy aging, yielding significant influence over physical function, metabolic health, cognitive (mental) performance, and overall well-being. Age-related muscle loss and dysfunction can lead to falls, disability, and a loss of independence in older individuals, as well as increase the risk of metabolic dysfunction and chronic illnesses.”
While the research is clear that physical activity and muscle health are essential elements to healthy aging and overall well-being, our own (IPCS) strength data indicates that Americans are becoming less active and less likely to maintain muscle strength. Our database of 600,000 strength tests shows the absolute shoulder strength in the workforce in 2022 is 23% weaker than it was 15 years ago and the knee strength is 18% weaker. As Dr. Chen stated, this loss of strength will have a negative health impact on the American worker as he/she ages.
This down turn in the health of the worker can be reversed – the research shows that at any given time in our lifespan, strengthening exercises will benefit our health and well-being. How can the industry and the workplace get more creative to put this message into action and reverse this downward trend?
Severinsen, MCK, et. al. Muscle-Organ Crosstalk: The Emerging Roles of Myokines. Endocrine Reviews. 2020. 41(4), 0687
Chen, L-K, Skeletal Muscle Health: A Key Determinant of Healthy Aging. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics. 2023. 109, 105011