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How strong are you? Probably stronger than you think. Some say that if all the muscles in your body pulled together in one direction, you could lift 25 tons! Even if you count only the skeletal muscles in your body, you have over 400 separate muscles that make up more than 40 percent of your body weight. That’s a lot of strength. And a lot of body mass to keep in good shape.
What’s the best way to keep your muscles strong and healthy? You already know about eating right and exercising. But what about stress? Both physical and mental stress have negative effects on your muscle performance.
Let’s look at why this might be.
How Your Muscles Work
You take your muscles completely for granted. You aren’t even thinking about how your eye muscles are working right now, moving back and forth to read these words! But muscles have a key function: The body uses them to turn energy into motion. They perform every action that your brain comes up with. Even expressing an idea by speaking about it with your mouth, tongue, and lips uses muscles. Because they are so incredibly crucial to every aspect of life, muscles are astonishingly sophisticated.
- They turn fuel into motion
- They last your entire life
- They heal themselves
- They grow stronger if you use them correctly
Your body contains three specific kinds of muscles: skeletal (the kind you can see and feel), smooth (the kind that makes your food move through your intestines and blood move through your vessels), and cardiac (found only in the heart). All these muscles are made of proteins, and you need them all in good shape to keep your body working correctly.
To perform any action, a muscle has to contract. Your brain sends the “contract!” signal, and your muscles make it happen. For example, when the bicep of your arm contracts, you raise your lower arm. You can raise it with a little force or a lot of force, depending upon the signal from the brain and how much you’ve practiced. But all of this activity requires energy that your muscles are using to create movement.
A muscle is made up of fibers, a bundle of many cells. Fibers contain myofibrils, cylinders of muscle proteins, that allow them to contract. This all takes a lot of coordination between the brain’s electrical impulses and the muscle’s proteins, things that you don’t have to think about if it all happens correctly. But many things can get in the way of effective muscle movement, and stress is definitely one of those things.
How Stress Affects Your Muscles
Stress is one factor that is believed to interrupt your muscular function. But why?
Remember from the Stress & Your Health blog post that the cells in your body work best when the environment surrounding them is kept constant. Stress (from either external or internal sources) disrupts the environment around the cells. If not kept to a minimum, stress can challenge the body’s ability to correct the disruption. This places cells under stressed conditions (called “oxidative stress”) and interrupts their ability to function normally. Over time, cell malfunction leads to a disruption of entire body systems which impacts your ability to function normally.
When your body experiences stress, physical or mental, the muscles tense up to guard the body against injury and pain. If the stress happens suddenly, all the muscles tense up at once in response to the threat of any perceived danger (remember “fight or flight”), then relax when the perceived threat has passed. This is great when you need some extra speed or strength in a scary situation.
But when stress levels are high, your muscles are constantly on guard. The tension in your muscles causes you to sit, stand, and move inefficiently. Poor posture can lead to back and neck pain which can result in tension headaches. Because the muscles are so intricately connected, tension in one area of the body eventually spreads and, if not taken care of, can increase your risk for injury. High stress can also deter you from sticking to a regular exercise program which is essential for keeping your muscles strong and healthy.
So what can you do to optimize your muscle performance? KEEP OXIDATIVE STRESS TO A MINIMUM!
Boost Your Muscle Health
Here are some tips to keep your muscles working at their best.
Relax. If you feel tense and can’t relax your muscles, try some different ways that might help you release tension. Get a massage, take a nap, drink plenty of water, and exercise.
Keep your muscles strong. Strong, healthy muscle tissues in good condition can tolerate more stress than weak muscles can. Yoga or another type of exercise where you help your muscles contract and relax can be effective. Exercise also helps avoid sarcopenia, the condition where you lose muscle mass as you age. Keep your muscles healthy so you can continue to enjoy a great quality of life for many years!
Incorporate strength training. Even if you can only do a little weight lifting, give it a try. Not only will you be increasing your muscle mass, you will be helping to control your weight. With more muscle mass, your body will need to burn more calories to keep those muscles working, even when you are at rest.
Eat foods that build lean protein. Some good choices are lean beef, eggs, whole grains like brown rice, and fruits and veggies such as beets, cantaloupe, spinach, oranges, and apples.
Take Protandim Nrf2 Synergizer, a dietary supplement that works to reduce the oxidative stress that stems from the stressors we encounter on a day-to-day basis. This unique product contains a blend of phytonutrients that stimulate a protein in your body called Nrf2. When activated, Nrf2 reduces oxidative stress by:
- Removing toxins that cause cell damage
- Cleaning up damaged cells
- Improving cell function
- Activating a protective response that defends against future stress