Is the modern lifestyle, with its emphasis upon diet and shape, causing a decrease in muscle mass in women?

Are you slimmer than your mother or your grandma? Research is indicating that women in the 21st century generally have much less muscle mass than their mothers and grandmothers, due largely to diet and different exercise regimes.

For many women, exercise and diet is all about achieving a slender, even skinny, look, with very little muscle mass or definition. Certainly the trend since the mid 1980s among women has been much less emphasis upon building muscle mass, and more about losing weight. Where gyms and fitness centres used to emphasise the toning effect of using weight machines and free weights to build some muscle mass, now there is more emphasis upon dance or exercise classes which tone rather than build.

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A decrease in muscle mass

Dr Grant Tomkinson, of the University of the South Australian department of health sciences has been involved in research in this area. He says that there was a peak in developing muscle mass and power among women in 1985. Since then, although the general weight of people has increased, the muscle mass has decreased by about 8-10 per cent.

This trait has been particularly noticeable among women. Most women just want to be slim and base their lifestyle around this goal. They may be slim, but they will not be strong.

This could have a number of serious consequences. Women with a lack of core strength will have less stamina and so will not be able to do simple daily tasks as efficiently. If they are looking to lose weight they will start from a lower fitness point and so exercise will be tougher. Life with less muscle mass is just harder.

Health consequences of less muscle mass

Lack of muscle mass can also have serious health consequences. Muscle keeps the body safe by protecting the joints and bones, while lowered levels of muscle mass increases osteoporosis, fractures, arthritis and the risk of back pain.

Exercise gurus will tell you, there is no need to be a bulked-out muscle woman, you just need to make sure that those essential muscles are toned and fit for purpose.

What is the answer?

Firstly, eat more protein!

Protein is the basic building block of muscle mass, it both repairs muscle and helps new muscle fibres to grow. Nutrition experts say that 25 per cent of the diet should consist of protein, without it your muscle will waste away.

Catherine Collins, a dietitian at London St. George’s Hospital,  suggests you should eat 60 grams of protein per day – the equivalent of approximately 20 ounces of chicken breast. Other sources of protein include red meat, dairy products, nuts and lentils.

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Secondly, move more!

A sedentary lifestyle is also leading to a reduced muscle mass among office workers. Even something as minor as walking up a flight of stairs to a meeting has been replaced by emails or online meetings. To change channels, there’s a remote control; online shopping is more convenient than walking around the shops.

Every part of your daily life is being made more convenient, but also more sedentary.

It is really down to you to make the changes. Introduce some movement into your day by going for a walk, a run or a cycle ride; join a dance class; play a team sport – do anything to give those muscles a much needed burst of activity.

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