My Challenge for You This Year

*This article first appeared in Panorama Community Magazine in February 2024

There are numerous fitness/health challenges out there, especially this time of year.  You might come across a “30 days of squats challenge,” a “daily plank challenge,” or a “30 day clean eating challenge.”  While these challenges aren’t completely terrible in and of themselves (I generally wouldn’t recommend them), I have a more worthwhile challenge for you.  My challenge for you this year is to build as much muscle as possible.  

Before anyone gets concerned, you will not get bulky.  That takes years of dedicated effort and requires super tight control of your nutrition…more than the everyday person is typically willing to devote themselves to.  

Why the challenge of building muscle?  While there may be certain aesthetic results, the challenge is ultimately more about supporting your overall health and longevity.  

Those who focus on building muscle will likely have incorporated resistance/strength training into their fitness routine.  In doing so, their efforts to build muscle will also be simultaneously strengthening their bones.  According to the Bone Health & Osteoporosis  Foundation, “one in two women and up to one in four men will break a bone in their lifetime due to osteoporosis.”  Hands down, strength training is one of the best strategies you could use to strengthen your bones.  Too many people focus on the here and now.  I’d like to encourage you to consider the life you desire when you are 60 years old and beyond.  As a nurse, I have unfortunately seen a broken bone in the aged population mean the beginning of the end.  For many, it means a loss of independence.  Sometimes it means a decline in overall health.  Having limited mobility means more inactivity which increases your chances for other health complications such as pneumonia, pressure ulcers, poor blood sugar management, and a decrease in cognition.  While you might not be able to 100% prevent an osteoporosis-related broken bone, if you have put in the time with strength training, you will be better able to navigate the recovery from it compared to your peers who have not.  

If you focus on building muscle, it will mean that you are putting in the effort to fuel your body well to support muscle growth.  Sadly, too many people take the approach of eating minimally in an effort to accomplish their fat loss goals.  Building muscle requires adequate calories.  You can’t starve your way to muscle growth.  Even more importantly, it means you have to focus on protein intake, something many people are typically undereating.  I like to summarize it this way to my clients:  feed your muscles.  If you are already working hard in the gym to grow your muscles and you aren’t seeing the results you want, this could be for a number of reasons, but one reason might be that you aren’t eating enough.    

A focus on muscle growth often means increased fat loss.  Oftentimes, people believe that what they want is weight loss when what they really desire is fat loss.  Having more muscle means you have raised your basal metabolic rate which is the number of calories you burn at rest.  When many people begin a weight loss journey, they often kill themselves with cardio thinking that they will focus on muscle building when they have lost their desired weight.  In reality, having more muscle mass will actually accelerate their fat loss.  This is not to say that one shouldn’t do cardio; it is important for people to do for health purposes.  Also, keep doing it if you enjoy it!  However, the best bang for your buck for fat loss happens with strength training.  

Focusing on muscle growth means you will be continually challenging yourself.  Challenging yourself continually in the gym has great carryover to your everyday life.  Life is full of challenges and the gym is a great place to practice the skills that will help you navigate them.  For example, the skills of doing the work when you don’t feel like it, challenging yourself to do just a little bit more, the practice of getting outside your comfort zone when doing something new, and aligning habits to achieve a goal.  We don’t grow when things are easy.  We grow through the challenges we face and by overcoming them.  

Lastly, in a society that is very focused on material “things” that anyone for the most part can purchase, muscles are one of those that are completely earned by the individual who possesses them.  When you see someone who has some muscle definition, it’s often an indicator that they care about their own health and their impact on those around them, they have prioritized self-care, and to a degree have some level of  discipline in their lives.  

In conclusion, focusing on muscle growth will help you become not only more resilient physically, but mentally as well.  Generally speaking, no one will ever regret the time spent getting stronger. Rather, they will regret not taking the time to prioritize their health.  

Be strong.  Be confident.