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The miracle of adding muscle

Published November 12. 2011 09:01AM

Getting students to do what they may not want to do.

In this strange, new educational landscape where producing a certain score on a single test is more valued than producing solid citizens for the community's success, that ability may very well be more important to a teacher than any other. Nothing drops the class average on a standardized assessment like a half dozen derelicts tanking the test.

But how do you as a teacher get unmotivated students to bubble in answers on the score sheet that demonstrate their knowledge instead of an arbitrary design? By explaining how giving an honest effort on the test is best for their long-term success.

Cajoling them and couching your words with whatever charm and charisma you possess doesn't hurt, either.

One thing is for sure. The days of "Do it because I said so" in school are as long gone as wooden paddles and electric typewriters. What is true, though, is that reluctant students will give a better effort if given a good reasons why to do so.

And eager students who'd give a good effort without any justification whatsoever gain insight and additional motivation from such an explanation.

That's why I'd like to use this week's article to explain what could be called "the miracle of muscle." If you're what might be called an less-than-eager exerciser, a logical explanation of why adding muscle is good for your long-term health might make those few-and-far-between workouts a bit more regular.

If you're already committed to a healthy lifestyle or losing weight, this column might cause you to hit the weights a bit harder or realize why you need to do more than just crank up the cardio to create better results.

Leading a healthy lifestyle means different things to different people, but one constant in all definitions is doing the things in your daily routine whether it entails 90 minutes of biking or nine minutes of walking with a minimum of pain and a maximum of efficiency. If done correctly, adding muscle can reduce the former and increase the latter.

Let's use back pain instead of workout performance to explain. Experts estimate, for instance, that 80 percent of Americans will suffer from back pain during some time in their lives and that much of the pain is chronic. Very little of it, however, is the product of genetics. Most results from excessive weight and an irregular lifestyle combined with a relative lack of strength or muscle.

It's been said that every extra pound around your waist puts 10 additional pounds of pressure on your back, but do those with bothersome backs consider that and drop unwanted weight? Do seasonal athletes like skiers and golfers recognize the additional stress placed on their backs during the weekends when they're active and strengthen the back in preparation for that extra burden?

In both cases, increasing the musculature in the lower back limits the odds of incurring back pain or that previous back pain will recur.

But the benefits of adding muscle are not limited to one body area. Much aging directly results from sarcopenia, the natural loss of muscle mass beginning in middle age. Adding muscle impedes this process, allowing you to function as if you were much younger, and eliminates or delays the diseases that result from it, such as osteoporosis.

The cause of osteoporosis, the decrease in bone mass and density that leads to fragility and fractures, is often given as a lack of calcium in adolescence, but research has proven that the proper force placed on the bones as you age maintains or even increases bone strength and mass. While most might think weight-bearing exercise like running might provide significant stimulus, the muscle contractions created from lifting weights create even more, according to research cited by Monica Mollica in an article for Will Brink's web site, The

Mollica writes that "maintenance of adequate bone strength and density with aging is highly dependent on the maintenance of adequate muscle mass and function" as part of her argument why everyone not just bodybuilders should increase muscle mass.

As contradictory as it may sound, another reason to add muscle is to lose weight. Bad weight, that is. Body fat.

To illustrate, let's discuss the dingbat who goes from person to person at his 20th class reunion, proclaiming, "I weigh what I did the day we graduated." While he's not lying, you don't remember his belly hanging over his belt way back when or his posture being so round-shouldered. That's because over the last 20 years he's lost 10 pounds of muscle and added 10 pounds of fat.

He looks quite different which is not a compliment but more important to his long-term health is that the newfound fat is inert and the long-gone muscle was not.

That means that this guy is probably eating at least 500 fewer calories a day than he did 20 years ago. As a result, he's missing out on much-needed nutrients to maintain that weight, but for how long? As he continues to age, he will naturally lose more muscle, forcing him to reduce his caloric consumption further or gain weight.

Read next week's column for why this guy should gain weight and how you can add muscle by lifting weights regardless of your age or condition.

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