The idea of a human body aging can be viewed through multiple lenses. The primary lens in which most people view aging is the number of years they have been alive. Essentially, they determine how ‘old’ they are in relation to how many times the earth has revolved around the sun since the day they were born. This view can be helpful in some regard, but it does not quite give us the full story on biological ageing.
When we talk about biological ageing, we are mostly talking about the degree at which the human body is deteriorating and how much more likely one is to die at any given moment. This may seem morbid at first, but when we are looking from an objective point of view, this is simply what aging is.
You are born with a relatively low likelihood of immediate death. Generally speaking, this likelihood increases as years pass. This likelihood varies drastically from person to person depending on a multitude of factors including genetics, physiological stress, self-care habits, and much more.
Think of a car for example. As a car gets older, it generally becomes less efficient. It may get less mileage out of the same amount of gas. It may need to be taken into the shop more often as small components under the hood begin to break and need replacing. Depending on your driving habits, the stress placed on the vehicle over time, and how meticulous you are with taking it to the mechanic – you may get a dramatic difference in longevity out of the same vehicle.
Through this lens, you could determine the age of a vehicle based on its ‘mechanical health’ rather than the literal amount of time it has been since it was manufactured. This is more helpful when it comes to determining a course of action to maintain the ‘health’ of the vehicle.
In this article we are going take a first principles look at biological aging in humans. More specifically, we will be diving into the relationship between muscle mass and organ function. Additionally, we will discuss how your approach to physical exercise can impact your muscle mass in the long-term.
A First Principles Look at the Adaptive Processes of the Human Body
As humans, we have an adaptive physiology. This simply means that we have the capacity to change ourselves biologically in relation to the demands the environment places on us. A simple example of this would be how muscles grow when they are placed under the right type of mechanical load.
Another example would be how the immune system can adapt to create a robust and long-lasting immune response to a virus after being exposed to it.
Yet another example being how someone who spends extended amounts of time on a computer over time may develop near-sightedness and lose the ability to see things in the distance without corrective lenses.
There are an innumerable amount of ways the body can adapt to the demands placed on it. These adaptations can be beneficial or they can be detrimental with regard to biological aging of the body.
All of this to highlight the simple fact that your health is an outcome of what your biology is adapting to. If you can understand what you are adapting your body to, you can take better control over your health. Now let’s discuss how this relates to your muscles and organs.
The concept of organ reserve is a relatively new theory that stems from the idea of adaptation.
Organ reserve has been defined as the capacity of an organ to withstand stressors and subsequently return to homeostasis without complications (S). Organ reserve has also been referred to as the general ability of an organ to support life and at what capacity it is able to do so.
With age, the likelihood of any given organ failing increases almost linearly. Considering the above, it is logical to say that aging is associated with a decline in organ reserve.
Another very strong correlation with aging is the loss of muscle mass or what some would classify as sarcopenia (S).
To generalize, as the average human gets older, they lose muscle mass and their organs become less efficient. These are not proven to be related to one another but as we will discuss next, it would make sense that they are highly related.
How Muscle Mass and Organ Reserve Might be Connected
If you don’t provide your muscles with some type of regular stimulation, they will begin to atrophy. The less you use them, the quicker they atrophy. This seems to be well understood by the general public. Age-related muscle loss is a massive problem that just about every human faces eventually.
How soon and to what degree someone faces this muscle loss depends on their movement habits, nutrition, genetics, among countless other factors. What we will discuss in a moment is how moving correctly is likely the most important factor in building and maintaining your muscle with age.
When we look at the body through the lens of biological adaptation, it appears that organs are under a similar adaptive mechanism to muscle.
For example, cardiovascular training can improve the ability of the heart and lungs to work together to efficiently transport oxygen and other nutrients around the body. In contrast, when someone is too sedentary over time, they become less efficient at utilizing these organ systems.
When we consider that the cardiovascular system is making these adaptations due to an increased demand from mainly the muscles, we can speculate that potentially a similar positive adaptation would occur by simply building more muscle mass on the body. If this muscle mass also happens to be highly involved during everyday activities, then the benefits could be expedited.
This is where Functional Patterns is providing perhaps the biggest missing link ever uncovered when it comes to exercise, muscle mass, and aging.
Building Muscle for the Long-Term
Muscles develop on animals for specific functions. There is a reason that animals that move with similar patterns tend to have very similar musculoskeletal systems to one another. Humans have a unique musculoskeletal arrangement that allows us to stand upright on two feet and walk, run, or, throw while doing so.
It was these functions that likely made us so successful among other animals. These functions allowed us to dominate our way to the top of the food chain and survive our way to modern day.
Keep in mind that muscles didn’t develop on the human body in isolation. They developed alongside the bones, the heart, the liver, the brain, and everything else within the body. They evolved to complement each other. This means that giving the musculoskeletal system a more optimal stimulus should provide a more optimal stimulus for the heart, liver, brain, and overall human physiology.
This is where the concepts of organ reserve and muscle mass meet.
So what is the optimal stimulus for the human musculoskeletal system? This is a question we’ve been asking at Functional Patterns for almost 15 years.
While we’ll likely never know the perfect stimulus for the human body, chances are that a closer approximation of it lies in the blueprint of standing, walking, running, throwing, and building resistance training around ranges of motion that mimic these functions.
When we work with people who come from training backgrounds that do not respect these functions, we see an imbalanced structure that gets jammed up during basic functions like walking. When training does not respect these functions, some muscles will get attention, while others will not. Over time, these muscles will atrophy and no longer be active during basic functions like walking. The result is an unstable structure a rapid wearing in the joints.
Additionally, as muscle becomes less involved, organs lose the stimulus to work as hard to support the demands of the body. Over time, these adaptations push the body away from maintaining balance and into a rapid aging process.
By training within the confines of how our muscles evolved, we can train more muscle to be recruited during everyday activity performed throughout the day.
This is where the phrase “use it or lose it” actually holds true. This phrase only holds up when you are ‘using it’ (your body) the way it is designed to be used.
Orienting your exercise around functional adaptation trains your muscle to continue to work for you in everyday life as well. Your muscle will support you and not disappear with age.
As you build your exercise routine, we hope you will consider the above assertions and take a look at the results we put forth on our social platforms. As we test and continue to evolve our understanding of what an optimal human is, we have put an emphasis on showcasing the results that our method achieves. This is what separates us from the rest and why we hope we can save you some time and frustration on your path to health.