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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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January 31, 2008

The Role of Lean Muscle Mass and Organ Reserve in Aging

By Mark Sisson
116 Comments

There’s been a lot in the news lately about the question of longevity. This past week an article discussed the role of exercise in “biological aging,” the relative age of a person based on biomarkers (determined by telomere length in this study), rather than simple chronology.

To add to this discussion, I want to offer up a medically accepted dimension of biological aging that hasn’t gotten as much press lately. Lean muscle mass in happy tandem with organ reserve are two defining characteristics of both good health and longevity.

Have you ever heard someone say that a person died of “old age” or “natural causes”? Essentially, the person died as a result of the logical end of the aging process, the diminishment of organ reserve and corresponding muscle mass that supported his/her physical functioning.

Let’s look closer.

First, we’re talking skeletal muscle mass here, the stuff we use or lose with age. We associate muscle mass with strength and functionality, but muscle also provides metabolic reserve. Muscle produces proteins and metabolites in response to physical trauma. This response is essential to the body’s efforts to achieve recovery and resume homeostasis. With the loss of muscle mass, we lose this metabolic reservoir.

Organ reserve refers to the functional capacity of our organs to support life. When we’re young, our organs have many times the capacity that it takes to simply function. Factors that stress those organs, like illness, injury and toxicity we encounter in our environments (pesticides, etc.), test the organs, but because they have substantial reserve, don’t tax their limits. As we age, this reserve diminishes, and the organs become truly stressed by these same factors. We simply don’t bounce back the way we used to.

Now, the interesting thing is that lean muscle mass and organ reserve have a convenient correlation. Skeletal muscle mass and organ reserve, unless serious disease or trauma targets one or the other, generally tend to correspond throughout life.

The diminishment of organ reserve and lean muscle mass is somewhat genetically influenced, but as we say here at MDA time and again, the expression of your genes depends on the interaction between your genetic blueprint and your personal environment and lifestyle. This means that our efforts throughout life to build and maintain muscle mass tend to improve or retain not just muscle mass but the function of other tissue as well, including the function of vital organs like the heart, lungs, kidneys and liver. And vice-versa. It’s a widely accepted assertion that 75 percent of our health and life expectancy after age 40 is determined by environmental factors, including the impact of our daily lifestyle choices. Now there’s a reason to get off the couch.

So, what can you do to retain and even build lean muscle mass throughout your life and maintain the vitality of your organs? Let’s explore.

Prevent Inflammation
You guessed it: anti-inflammatory diet. Bad carbs! Down trans fats! Those trans fat encourage oxidative stress throughout the body. Grains and sugars not only cause inflammation, which perpetually taxes your organs, they throw off your hormone levels. And, yup, optimum hormone levels are key to 1) maintaining and building lean muscle mass and 2) supporting the functional health of the body’s organs. There’s just no getting around it. What’s healthy/unhealthy for one part of the body will be the same for the whole body. It’s the beauty of the design, I say. And it holds us accountable – without exception.

What would an MDA entry be without the requisite push for veggies, veggies, veggies. We’ll stump for fruits as well. Anti-oxidants and nutrients galore now will mean compound interest later. Every cell in your body, not to mention your older, future self, will thank you for the investment.

Get Protein!
A study at University of Texas at Galveston had us all cheering over its findings that older people have the same capacity as their younger counterparts for converting protein-rich food into muscle. Older men and women in this country, countless nutrition studies suggest, eat less protein than the average person. At the time of life when protein plays a more essential role than ever, older men and women typically reduce their protein intake. Take this as the perfect incentive to belly up to the barbeque!

Take Omega-3 Supplements (from fish oil)
While we’re on the subject of protein, omega-3s from fish oil in particular can enhance the above conversion process of food protein to muscle protein. This finding is good news for young and old alike.

Furthermore, omega-3s reduce inflammation and thin the blood, which puts less stress on the heart and other organs. The less stress we put on the organs, the longer they are able to maintain their vitality.

Limit Exposure to Toxins
You’ve heard me spout off about the importance of organic foods, and there’s good reason (and science) behind these concerns. Yet I also understand (in part through the great comments left by you, our MDA community) that organics aren’t always available and, if they are, are often cost-prohibitive. If you’re able to do organics, go for it. But rest assured that even if you can’t, a healthy produce-rich diet has plenty of protective factors of its own.

Additionally, toxins in food are only a small part of the picture. Give you liver, among other organs, a break and take the time to use protective gear when working on the house or when dealing with toxins in the workplace. Look for small ways to limit unnecessary exposure to chemicals in your day to day life (e.g. install a water filter, etc.).

Exercise-Moderately, Please!
We can’t possibly say this enough: we’re talking about lots of moderate activity coupled with short spurts of high energy output, anaerobic activity. (See my entries on sprints for some ideas.) Nothing beats weight-bearing anaerobic activity for building muscle mass.

You’ve likely heard me say it before: endless cardio isn’t your friend. Chronic, high level training raises cortisol levels, which can deplete muscle and taxes the body’s organs and immune function that support them. If you’re talking about maintaining and building lean muscle mass and supporting the vitality of your organs, rethink the cardio craze you see around you at the gym.

So, now we turn it over to our good readers. Your comments, observations, questions? Thanks for your contributions, and be well!

independentman, 416style Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Dear Mark: Pondering Protein

Dumb Little Man: Top 5 Muscle Tips for a Buff Body

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116 Comments on "The Role of Lean Muscle Mass and Organ Reserve in Aging"

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charlotte
8 years 7 months ago

I’m still having a hard time understanding what “chronic high level training” is, exactly. I’m pretty sure I’m still guilty of this one (although I cut back considerably since reading your Cardio Diet) How much is too much? Is there a heart rate zone you guys can give me? A time limit? Am I overthinking this?? Thanks for the help everyone!

McFly
McFly
8 years 7 months ago

I’ve been reading up on the telomere thing, and apparently one of the major problems with preventing the degeneration of telomeres, is that the same process that ruins our telomeres is also the process that helps our body fight cancer. In other words stunting telomere degeneration is like releasing black widows into your home to get rid of a wasp problem.

Cindy Moore
8 years 7 months ago
“At the time of life when protein plays a more essential role than ever, older men and women typically reduce their protein intake.” And yet, even the government recommends less protein as you get older. Check out MyPyramid.gov. Enter data for a 25 yr old and a 65 yr old. For the 25 yr old, the recommendation is for more grain, more veg and more protein. I recently read a report that indicates the higher your blood albumin level is the more likely you’ll survive a major illness or injury. And how to increase blood albumin?? Increase your protein intake,… Read more »
carla
8 years 7 months ago

Just wanted to take the time to say how much I ADORE your site…adding you to my secret blog crushes blogroll…though now it’s not so secret 🙂

Carla

Mike OD
8 years 7 months ago
Charlotte, I would say anything going over 45min will start with the elevation of cortisol and muscle breakdown. One way to combat it is to take some amino acids pre and during an event if you need to participate in. But intensity is more important than duration. So 20min of spriting/running type activity will yeild 10x better results for fat loss and health in the long term than 1 hour of “fat burning zone” cardio (which is a bunch of bull sold by the manufacturers of cardio machines). If you do participate in longer sports (like I play ice hockey… Read more »
carla
8 years 7 months ago

(added ya mark…hope that’s ok)

Mark Sisson
8 years 7 months ago

Carla,

You kiddin? I’m thrilled to be added to MizFit’s secret crush blogroll. 😉

Mark Sisson
8 years 7 months ago

Charlotte,

MikeOD’s got a good handle on it. Don’t overthink this. I come from that chronic-exerciser group (and look at me – I’m still kicking it big time) so my main point is not to get caught up in those countless hours of aerobic nowheresville. It’s a waste of time at best and could do damage at worst…but that’s when you get to 2-3 hours a day or more.

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[…] Charlotte, for posting this question last week. As is so often the case, another MDA reader (hats off to you, Mike OD!) offered great […]

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[…] few weeks ago we tackled the importance of lean muscle mass in aging and its typical correlation with organ reserve. Conventional wisdom tells us that muscle is easiest […]

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[…] Source: Mark’s Daily Apple Blog: “There’s been a lot in the news lately about the question of longevity. This past week an article discussed the role of exercise in “biological aging,” the relative age of a person based on biomarkers (determined by telomere length in this study), rather than simple chronology.”   >Read the Full Article […]

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[…] several of these points over the last few weeks: the role of strength training in optimum fitness, the relationship between muscle mass and organ reserve, and the impact of lifestyle on both disease risk and gene expression. How do you like that for […]

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[…] The Role of Lean Muscle Mass and Organ Reserve in Aging […]

mike farris
mike farris
8 years 3 months ago
i remember you from your appearance on the doug koffman tv show several years back. then i read your article in the rivendell reader about three months ago, about groks. problem. you seem to be down on grain. i know for a certainty that i cured a hemhorid problem a few years ago, by daily consuming pancakes made from hard red winter whole wheat which i raised and ground myself. took only a few weeks to get rid of that sucker and it has not returned. and i just caught some more grain from the combine yesterday. it seems that… Read more »
Mark Sisson
8 years 3 months ago

Mike,

Glad you enjoyed the Rivendell piece. Yes, I am down on grain, even though I ate it in large amounts for 45 years. I will probably not consume much ever again, knowing what I know.

Having said that, if you believe your red wheat was a reason for your improvement, who am I to convince you otherwise. We ahev written much about grains on our site over the past few years, so without rehashing old news, I might ask you to search for “grain” on the site to get a better overall sense of where we are coming from.

S. Fast Gain James
8 years 1 month ago

This is very inspiring post and site. I know that all those who are serious about muscle mass building and even about the general fitness only , in deed need as much genuine and usefull real life informations and guidelines in order to advance fast. I would also like to see more practical hints about different workout technics if possible. S.J.

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[…] reasons behind the benefit of a few extra pounds in later years? I’ve mentioned before that lean muscle mass is directly related to organ reserve, and the effects of this connection are especially dramatic later in life. This research seems to […]

Gary
Gary
8 years 10 days ago

Mark:

You have mentioned many times that lean muscle mass and organ reserve are related with the implication being that building up muscle mass will improve organ reserve. But unlike most of the other claims you make, I have not seen you refer to any research to support this one.

So I’d like to know if you can cite research which shows the two are correlated and, more importantly that increasing muscle mass increases organ reserve capacity.

Thanks,
Gary

Mark Sisson
8 years 10 days ago

Gary, here’s my favorite review article “The underappreciated role of muscle in health and disease” http://www.ajcn.org/cgi/reprint/84/3/475

Then, if you go to pubmed.com and search for “organ reserve” you’ll see a number of references. Not a lot has been done on it, but there are enough references in medicine regarding the diminished organ reserve in patients who have muscle atrophy…in fact that’s one reason they want people to work out and “get fit” before surgery. So they will have increased organ reserve during this induced medical crisis.

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[…] health conditions), the more likely he/she is to have a lack of “organ reserve,” not enough organ capacity remaining to handle basic metabolic needs plus those demands added by the flu (fever, […]

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7 years 9 months ago

[…] health conditions), the more likely he/she is to have a lack of “organ reserve,” not enough organ capacity remaining to handle basic metabolic needs plus those demands added by the flu (fever, […]

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[…] The Role of Lean Muscle Mass and Organ Reserve in Aging […]

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[…] 2) Whether you eat Primally or Vegan, Mediterranean or SAD, you’ll still probably live a relatively long, relatively healthy life if you exercise. 80 years or 100. Who’s counting? The rest is more about nuances and small percentage changes in overall risk factors. Oh, and lean mass. […]

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[…] Lean Body Mass (LBM) is the key to life. I’ve said it many times on this site: lean mass (muscle and all the rest of you that is not fat) is directly correlated […]

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[…] getting healthy would have enormous benefits – both personal and community-wide. Increasing your lean muscle mass looks good, for one, but it also forces your organs to keep up with your muscles and work even more […]

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[…] also not excessive and “expensive to maintain” muscles. It’s about arriving at a comfortable lean mass that reflects the signals you have given your genes. In my case, at 55 years old, I just want to […]

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[…] the best way to preserve and build muscle mass in your later years, which we’ve shown is tied to critical organ reserve and longevity. As mentioned previously, watch your form and scale back when your instinct tells you. But […]

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7 years 3 months ago

[…] The Role of Lean Muscle Mass and Organ Reserve in Aging | Mark’s Daily … […]

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[…] The Role of Lean Muscle Mass and Organ Reserve in Aging […]

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[…] The Role of Lean Muscle Mass and Organ Reserve in Aging | Mark’s Daily … […]

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[…] be the first to tell you that lean body mass is healthier than adipose tissue. Generally, the more lean mass a person has, the longer and better they live. But to increase mass at the expense of agility, strength, or speed is, in my opinion, […]

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[…] be the first to tell you that lean body mass is healthier than adipose tissue. Generally, the more lean mass a person has, the longer and better they live. But to increase mass at the expense of agility, strength, or speed is, in my opinion, […]

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[…] individually or in concert, will probably help you lose weight, but a ton of it will come from your lean mass (not to mention bones and organs). That said, if you’re going for skinny-fat chic or the […]

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[…] have a high level of muscular development via weight training!  Check out this more comprehensive post on organ reserve by Mark’s Daily Apple (who else?).  So what have we […]

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[…] MASS – Muscle mass is necessary to wellness and longevity (see this article for more on that) and is much easier to lose than to gain for most people, especially in American culture. This can […]

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[…] has been coming to light that muscle mass is a more common denominator in longevity than diet, or even tobacco and alcohol intake. The longer […]

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[…] has been coming to light that muscle mass is a more common denominator in longevity than diet, or even tobacco and alcohol intake. The longer […]

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[…] has been coming to light that muscle mass is a more common denominator in longevity than diet, or even tobacco and alcohol intake. The longer […]

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[…] be the first to tell you that lean body mass is healthier than adipose tissue. Generally, the more lean mass a person has, the longer and better they live. But to increase mass at the expense of agility, strength, or speed is, in my opinion, […]

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[…] and seed oils if you haven’t already; start a resistance training and sprinting regimen to build up those muscles and organ reserves, because you’re gonna need them; start a normal, healthy sleep schedule. You’ve been […]

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[…] weaker people are less active and slower because moving around is hard when you’re weak. Stronger people have more organ mass and better metabolic health. Weaker people might not survive surgery or illness. Activity […]

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[…] focused on staying in shape, mostly as a body-builder. He understood very early in his career that lean mass was the main driver of health, and he orchestrated a workout and diet plan contemplated to keep him fit. He’s never really been […]

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[…] bodyweight by the end of the study). The rats on the weighted wheel, who packed on a good amount of lean mass, could only run about half as long as the rats on the unweighted wheel, who gained no muscle. The […]

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[…] seen one or two CR gurus giving TED talks; the exposed rib cages, gaunt faces, and complete lack of lean muscle mass are dead giveaways. Okay – that’s a bit unfair. CR is a legitimate way to improve many health […]

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5 years 6 months ago

[…] the fasting post, I’d rather have a fantastic quality of life (which for me means plenty of lean mass, plenty of physical activity, and plenty of meat on my plate) than live a few extra, […]

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[…] fasting – er, sorry, I meant intermittent calorie restriction – preserves more lean mass, which is the stuff we want to preserve, especially as we lose weight. Otherwise you’re on […]

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[…] of movement patterns, activity types, and energy pathways. Joints should move freely and smoothly, lean mass should be visible and capable, and you shouldn’t get winded ascending a flight of stairs or going […]

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[…] The role of lean muscle mass and organ reserve in aging […]

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[…] seen one or two CR gurus giving TED talks; the exposed rib cages, gaunt faces, and complete lack of lean muscle mass are dead giveaways. Okay – that’s a bit unfair. CR is a legitimate way to improve many health […]

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[…] greater muscle mass also acts as metabolic reserve in times of trauma. I’m not talking about famine or starvation. I’m talking about car […]

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