An Undervalued Biomarker for Health: Muscle Mass

Posted on 8/16/2013 by Dr. Adrian den Boer
Categories: exercise, Health biomarker, heart disease, lifestyle

Just as a car has a dashboard gauging gas, temperature, and maintenance needs, humans also have a “dashboard” of measurable markers for health, called biomarkers. This post marks the beginning of a series on these important health biomarkers, and how optimizing these can extend both quality and longevity of our “engines.”
To begin, one of the most undervalued and top biomarkers that we measure at DBC is muscle mass, or the total amount of lean muscle not including water, organs or fat.
It is, by far, one of the most undervalued, underappreciated measures, despite several accessible, inexpensive ways to measure it.
From the less effective skinfold test, to hydrostatic weighing in water, and air displacement via the Bod Pod, one of the most effective and accurate ways is with DBC’s Bio-Impedance Analysis (BIA) machine.
The muscle mass ranges that I look for in patients are as follows:
Men: 38 – 44%
42% is optimum, and anything above that is just athletic prowess; it is not necessarily linked to increased health.
Women: 35 – 40%
38% is optimum, and anything above 40% is not necessarily linked to increased health.
Why is muscle mass such an important indicator of health?
Maintaining muscle mass may be one of the MOST powerful ways to decrease the effects of aging. When it's at the proper percentage, you not only have the ability to do any kind of activity that you want, which has profound mental effects, but muscle mass has anti-inflammatory properties and hormone-balancing properties. It also maintains circulation and is a big part of our immune system, amongst many other benefits. 
Although muscle mass declines as we age, it is not mostly due to aging, but inactivity!
Surprisingly, muscle mass can regenerate almost as quickly at age 70 as age 20.
For instance, one study showed that just two sessions of training per week can increase muscle strength by more than 30% in aging adults (Lacour, Kostka, & Bonnefoy, 2002).
Though muscle mass is mostly affected by exercise, it can also be affected by nutrition. Consuming enough protein is important, with at least 20 grams per meal. Eating a wide variety of plant-based foods like vegetables, legumes, nuts, and fruits also contain certain proteins and phytonutrients crucial to muscle building and repair.
A proper functioning gut is also crucial. On average, I’ve seen muscle mass increase by 2% (which is a lot!) when I detoxify our patients here at DBC for 1 month. That’s without exercise; to improve beyond that, exercise is imperative and it has to go beyond walking.
The Ideal Program for Building Muscle Mass
A combination of aerobic and resistance training is best for optimal muscle building and increased bone density.

  • Resistance Training
  1. - Perform 2 sets of 8 repetitions
  2. - Choose exercises that work out the entire body, such as bench press, squats, shoulder press, lunges, assisted pull-ups, and a back strengthening exercise.
  3. - Choose a weight that challenges you to the point of barely finishing the 8th repetition.
  4. - As you increase in strength, be sure to increase the weight!
  5. - Lifting free weights reigns as the most effective way, but machines are okay for the first months to build up muscle tone, strength, and technique. 
  6. - Aim for 2 – 3 resistance training sessions at a minimum of 20 minutes per week.
Having said that, you can start with less training per week, too, because some studies show positive results with just 10 minutes of resistance training per week. This should serve as an encouragement that even a little bit of resistance training can make a big difference!
The program also must be adapted to the person’s needs, including injuries, but remember that exercise can be done even when bedridden!
Aerobic Training
- Whether walking, jogging, biking, or swimming, aim for 30 – 45 minutes, 5 days per week.
- To maximize results, mix in high intensity intervals as described here.
Keeping things mixed up so your body doesn't get too efficient at any one thing is critical! Results are usually felt after three weeks. If you've never had a consistent exercise routine, the third workout is the toughest. This is normal, because it’s when your muscle is at its weakest before it starts rebuilding!
Additionally, some source of protein should be consumed 30 minutes after exercise to facilitate muscle repair and building.
Folks, by increasing your muscle mass, you are doing of the most powerful things to regain and maintain health, vitality, and organ reserves to withstand toxins and the stresses of aging!
Lacour, JR, Kostka, T, Bonnefoy, M. Physical activity to delay the effects of aging on mobility. Presse Med. 27 July 2002: 31 (25): 1185 – 92.