MUSCLE MASS & EVOLUTION

Why is it that so many individuals begin to physically deteriorate so quickly after the age of 65? By physically deteriorate, I don't necessarily mean they automatically have a stroke or get cancer, but why is it that once we reach that approximate age, we deteriorate in the sense that we stop engaging in any kind of functional mobility. To be sure, the process of losing muscle mass & functional ability can really ramp up as soon as you're in your early 40's, maybe even sooner for some, depending on a variety of lifestyle factors. 

Essentially every question about the human body - male or female - can be thought of in terms of human evolution. The finer details of understanding why men tend to lose a certain amount, vs why women tend to lose a different amount, will vary slightly because of certain hormonal & biological differences, but the solution to the question is always the same, and is unlocked by studying our evolutionary past.   

By now, it's fair to say that most people understand what life was like for our distant ancestors. Maybe not on an intellectual level, but intuitively, when it's explained, people get it. Just as our brains and our digestive tracts were forged in the crucible of our evolutionary past - which is why I advocate a real food diet - so too was our genetic expectation for physically challenging work.

This is one of the reasons why the body begins to crumble after the age of 40 if you're not careful. Another reason relates to the average age of reproduction throughout history, which is perhaps a topic for another time. It's interesting to speculate however, that one of the driving factors for the 'laziness' we see in modern society after the age of 40, could potentially be a direct by-product of the fact that humans would have rarely - if ever - reproduced after that age, and so we see no need to stay physically fit, even in modern times, because competition for resources sinks to an all time low, and most people are content to allow their muscles to waste away. 

Be that as it may, the physiological reason for muscle loss I'm concerned with here, is lack of physically challenging work. Physically challenging work will have to defined further as most people think climbing 3 flights of stairs constitutes 'exercise'. Sorry to say, it never has, and it never will, at least not in terms of maintaining or building muscle. Climbing 3 flights of stairs can be  considered 'exercise' for an individual who has COPD, has been bed-ridden for 3 months, or who has just undergone open-heart surgery, no one else. 

Remember what I said earlier about our evolutionary genetic expectation for physically demanding work. Exercise must only be thought of in this context. As such, the equivalent of climbing 3 flights of stairs a few hundred thousand years ago would have been foraging for tubers, or climbing a small tree to retrieve some fruit. On a scale of difficulty, this equates to either a 0 or a 1. It's nothing, it's banal, it happens all day every day. This is the constant - low/no stress - low intensity activity which would have characterized our normal daily activities.  If you weren't doing this type of activity almost all day, it was highly likely that you were either sleeping, or ostracized from the group. 

Physically demanding work - of the kind required to signal your genes to build muscle or increase strength - would have looked a bit different that what most people consider 'exercise' today. Chasing down and killing prey, or perhaps evading a predator, would have been the signal our genes would have expected in order to bestow larger and stronger muscles. Perhaps a 9 or a 10 on the scale of difficulty. 

Simply put, this type of activity is what confers survival, is what confers greater levels of strength.   

The trick for modern life is figuring out how to translate that type of activity into something which is both safe and sustainable. Luckily, you won't have to sit through a history of strength training to figure out why we're now much better at safely inducing strength gains in the +40 crowd. You can simply walk through the front door, and we'll handle the rest. 

 

Aaron TanasonComment