Muscles and Hormones- The key to anti-aging and optimum health



Hormones are  a class of regulatory biochemicals that are produced  by glands (e.g. Thyroid, adrenal and pancreas), and then transported by the circulatory system to organs  and tissues to coordinate  physiology and function.

Science is finding that skeletal muscle is also an endocrine gland that can have profound effects on health, disease and aging.

Skeletal muscle metabolism depends on a  complex balance between anabolism (growth) and catabolism (breakdown).

This balance gradually deteriorates with aging, leading to an age-related decline in muscle quantity and quality, called sarcopenia,

Sarcopenia plays a central role in physical and functional impairment.

Researchers believe the following factors play a role in sarcopenia:

  • Age-related reduction in nerve cells responsible for sending signals from the brain to the muscles to initiate movement
  • A decrease in the concentrations of some hormones, including growth hormone, testosterone, and insulin-like growth factor
  • A decrease in the body’s ability to synthesize protein
  • Inadequate intake of calories and/or protein to sustain muscle mass
  • Inactivity

Inactivity that results in sarcopenia promotes  an imbalance between inflammatory and  pro-inflammatory states,  favoring the accumulation of visceral (abdominal) fat  and the development of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes, cancer, dementia and depression as well as a decline in strength and power, and an increased risk of falls and fall-related injuries.

The knowledge of the mechanisms that induce sarcopenia and the ability to prevent or counteract them, can greatly contribute to the prevention of the aforementioned diseases as well as serve as an effective means for anti-aging.

Skeletal muscle is the target of numerous hormones, such as cytokines and myokines, which have autocrine (local), paracrine (neighboring)  or endocrine (distant) actions on cells, and are intimately involved in the inflammatory process.

Physical inactivity promotes an imbalance between these substances towards a pro-inflammatory state, thus favoring the vicious circle of sarcopenia, accumulation of fat and the development of cardiovascular diseases, type 2 diabetes mellitus, cancer, dementia and depression, according to what has been called “the diseasome” of physical inactivity.
Take home message

A chronic pro-inflammatory state, in response to lower muscle strength and mass (sarcopenia),  appears to contribute to the development of atherosclerosis, insulin resistance, tumor growth, and neurodegeneration.

Over the past decades, several studies have shown a protective effect of regular physical activity on morbidity and mortality,  due to biochemicals  that are released by contracting skeletal muscles, that result  in an anti-inflammatory environment and have  favorable hormonal effects on glucose and lipid metabolism.

This sheds some light as to the mechanisms through which physical exercise protects against the development of disease and promotes longevity, thus opening a fascinating, non-pharmacological avenue to prevention and treatment.

What kind of exercise is best?

Exercise that promotes  muscle growth and can counteract sarcopenia- i.e.  lifting weights and interval training.

The acute variables to promote muscle growth include 3-5 sets, 6 – 12 reps, moderate weight and speed and short rest periods between sets.  Programming should be changed every 4-6 weeks.

In addition, the focus should be on compound exercises, such as  horizontal pushing/pulling, vertical pushing/pulling, squats, dead-lifts and lunges.


What about endurance training?

Aerobic exercise has its benefits, however, many of these can be achieved through weight training and interval training.

Individuals who focus on endurance training, generally place a lot of stress on their bodies.

While resistance and interval training are also stressful, the hormonal effects of these types of exercise counteract the acute inflammation, while at the same time resulting in  increased lean body mass, a faster metabolism, increased blood vessel flexibility, blood sugar regulation. a more favorable lipid profile and prevention of physical and mental degeneration.

On the other hand, high volume aerobic training raises cortisol levels and accelerates aging by increasing oxidative substances in the body that are pro-inflammatory. Elevated cortisol  also  promotes fat storage vs fat burning.
Many people are either intimidated by weight lifting or are exercising incorrectly- Are you?

In addition, many confuse being fit with being healthy. Fitness and health are not synonymous.

About the Author

Dr. Geoff LecovinNaturopathic Physician/Chiropractor/Acupuncturist/Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist/Corrective Exercise Specialist/Performance Enhancement Specialist/Certified Sports Nutritionist/View all posts by Dr. Geoff Lecovin