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Muscle as Medicine


Muscle as Medicine

December 22, 2020

During initial intakes when we review our patients’ exercise regimens, we often hear this: “I walk/run [some number] of days per week” or “I love yoga,” or “I go to the gym and enjoy [Zumba, or swimming, or spinning, etc.].” One thing we don’t often hear about is our patient’s anaerobic, or muscle-building activities. When pressed, most don’t report having a routine at all to support this important tissue that makes up almost 40% of our body mass. We want to help you change this, and here’s why:

Muscles are not simply fibers that help us to move our skeletal system. Mounting evidence suggests that muscles are an important part of our endocrine system, secreting many different types of myokines to support such things as our immune system, inflammatory responses and brain health. For example, although mainly produced in the liver, Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1) is also produced by our muscles and helps to reduce our risk for metabolic syndrome, osteoporosis/osteopenia, and cardiovascular disease. Another example is Interluekin 6 (IL-6). When IL-6 is produced in other parts of the body, it is pro-inflammatory, but when secreted by contracting muscles, it is anti-inflammatory, and may reduce pain symptoms seen in disease processes like fibromyalgia. Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) is neuro-protective and increases in our brain when we exercise, but when secreted by muscle fibers, it acts locally to increase the breakdown of fat for energy. Leukemia Inhibitory Factor (LIF), Irisin, and many other Interluekins are all wonderfully beneficial and are all made by our muscles!

Are you struggling with your thyroid, a gland that controls much of our metabolism? Skeletal muscle has been found to produce an enzyme, iodothyronine deiodinase, that helps to convert inactive thyroid hormone (T4) into active thyroid hormone (T3)1. Increasing your muscle mass can potentially help improve your thyroid function!

Have you been diagnosed with non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a disease associated with insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome? A recent 2015 study showed that just three months of strength-training for 40 minutes, three times each week, decreases fatty infiltrate in the liver: As indicated by one of the lead authors of the study, Dr. Shira Zelber-Sagi, “The resistance training was not intended to reduce body weight significantly, and indeed overall weight loss was very slight. However, it seems that the resistance training had a specific impact in terms of a fall in liver fat levels as measured in the ultrasound examination.”

As you can see, having a healthy skeletal muscle system is important to our well-being. So how do we get it? Lift weights. Not just for your arms and legs though. The largest muscles in our body are our gluteal muscles, often referred to as our “glutes”, and some of the best exercises you can do to strengthen them are squats and deadlifts. However, we HIGHLY recommend working with a personal trainer when doing these exercises because when done incorrectly, they can lead to back injuries.

If you have been away from resistance training for a long time, please talk with your AIM physician about your desire to incorporate weight lifting into your exercise regimen. Dr. Caylin Holmes is our in-house expert on strength and muscle conditioning. She will be able to address your concerns and pinpoint the level of workout that is right for you. We also find that many of our patients benefit greatly from proper structural integration through Rolfing® before they begin, and while working with, a personal trainer. Sharon Madden and Becky Korfhagen are amazing practitioners, so ask for them when scheduling your therapy.

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