Building and keeping muscle, our metabolically active tissue, is the key for long-term health, vitality, longevity and fat loss.

Tufts University reports the top two determinants of aging we can control and biomarkers of how long you'll live is muscle mass and strength. One of the causes, as well as symptom of the aging process is sarcopenia, or muscle loss.

Losing muscle as we age not only leads to overall weakness but is a direct cause of decreasing your overall metabolic rate. Muscle is denser than fat, takes up less space in the body versus fat, and burns more calories than fat. The more lean muscle mass you have, the higher your metabolic rate.

The majority of women opt for aerobic/cardio exercise as their preferred choice of exercise. Excessive aerobic exercise decreases muscle mass over time. For more than 20 years, I have advised my clients, men and women alike, against excessive LSD (long, slow, distance) exercise if their goal is to lose fat, rev up their metabolism, look good and feel great.

That's right - and your body will completely transform! How? Resistance strength training.

Although many people, especially females, opt for aerobic and cardio exercise as their preferred choice, resistance strength training is one of the most important aspects if you want to change your physical body.

A program that includes a variety of push-ups, chin-ups and pull-ups, dead lifts, Olympics lifts, various styles of single leg exercises, step-ups and lunges, plyometrics and more using partner body weight and resisted exercises with dumbbells, suspension training with the TRX, jump ropes, sandbags, medicine balls, bands, Swiss balls, kettle bells and barbells.

Building muscle and maintaining your anabolic drive and metabolism will keep you lean, younger looking and feeling phenomenal.

What works to optimize your body composition, boost metabolism

• Eating foods that are nutrient dense equals more nutrition at less calories.

• Eat the same amount of (or slightly less than) the calories that you burn.

• Resistance strength training exercise.

• Detoxify your body.

• Make sure all systems are working (digestion, hormones, sleep).

• Have a reason for doing it.

• Believe in yourself.


• Antibiotics.

• Alcoholic beverages.

• Artificial fats like margarines and trans fats.

• Artificial flavorings, colorings and preservatives.

• Artificial sweeteners (including high fructose corn syrup).

• Corn-fed meats.

• Genetically modified organisms.

• Pesticides.

• All fast food.

• Sugar, processed soy, refined wheat and pasteurized dairy.

Winning formulas to change your body

1. Have your metabolism assessed. Your metabolism is the sum total of the building up and breaking down processes in your body. Under the age of 35, 20 to 30 percent of people have a damaged metabolism. Over the age of 35, 70 to 80 percent of people have a damaged metabolism. If you have a damaged metabolism that means you are breaking down your muscle tissue and accelerating the aging process, which means you are catabolic. You will find it difficult if not impossible to build muscle. Building muscle requires an anabolic environment. If you try to engage in an exercise program without accurately understanding where you're at, you may spend years exercising properly and look no different than you do now.

2. Understand that there are two factors that lead to a damaged metabolism, adrenal burnout and insulin resistance. Chronic stress is pandemic in our society. The stress hormone cortisol, in excess, breaks down muscle tissue. With insulin resistance, many people are not technically Type 2 diabetics, but the chronic stress in their lives coupled with poor food choices makes it difficult for them to maintain ideal blood sugars.

3. Eat five to six small, balanced meals every day. In order to build muscle, you will need to work toward rebuilding or maintaining healthy adrenal gland function and rebuilding or maintaining insulin sensitivity. You can't heal your adrenal glands if your blood sugar is constantly fluctuating throughout the day. That's because your body secretes the stress hormone cortisol every time your blood sugar drops. To keep your blood sugar balanced, you must include protein at every mini meal.

4. Focus on consuming a healthy diet. I hear it all the time - people who think they're eating healthy. Meanwhile, they are drinking diet sodas, living on protein bars or synthetic protein shakes they can't digest, microwaving their processed foods, eating hydrogenated fats and wondering why they still look the same and feel bad.

5. Lift weights for 30 to 45 minutes three to four times a week. Include metabolically boosting exercises that are multi-joint in nature (see above). A common misconception about strength training is that you have to lift weights. Strength training is done by moving either an external weight (barbell, dumbbell, kettlebell, sandbag, etc.) or your body weight (calisthenics, suspension training - TRX, gymnastics, etc.) through space. Complete your strength training sessions with some self-myofascial release (SMR) with the foam roller. Consume protein within 30 minutes of your workout completion to avoid catabolism. Your post workout protein shake or meal should be considered part of your workout.

6. Eliminate inflammation by choosing an anti-inflammatory diet and taking natural anti-inflammatories if necessary such as omega-3 fish oils, ginger, curcumin, L-glutamine and proteolytic enzymes. If you're eating any foods that cause inflammation, your body releases the stress hormone cortisol, which is the most catabolic hormone in the body. The top foods that cause inflammation are sugar, gluten, alcoholic beverages and hydrogenated fats.

7. Heal your digestive tract. At least 80 percent of clients that seek out my expertise are experiencing some sort of digestive challenge. You must assimilate the nutrients required to build muscle. Parasites, Candida, bad bacteria, H.pylori, food allergies, inflammation and/or incomplete digestion can be identified by working with a qualified health practitioner. Appropriate supplementation will assist in the healing process.

8. Once you're able to digest and absorb your food, make sure you are eating enough protein, starting with breakfast. Exercising first thing in the morning on an empty stomach is what I call "the muscle loss diet." The first 40 grams of protein you eat every day goes to rebuild your immune system. If you are not rebuilding your immune system, you'll have a hard time rebuilding your brain chemistry to be happy and think straight, and you will definitely not be able to build muscle. Your most important meal of the day is breakfast. Your second most important meal is your post-workout meal. How much protein you need depends upon your metabolic health, body weight, digestive health, lifestyle and activity level.

9. Proper supplementation. You cannot obtain all the nutrients you need from food if you have a damaged metabolism, engage in high intensity training or if you're trying to correct an underlying health challenge. You only look as good on the outside as your organs are healthy on the inside.

10. Once you're consuming a healthy diet, remember to get enough rest and make sure you are not overtraining. Get to bed by 10 p.m. every night. If you are not eating and sleeping well and you're still exercising, you're definitely overtraining. Remember, the more you exercise, the better you have to eat and the more carefully you have to plan your rest and recovery to avoid overtraining. Many people think building muscle is simply a matter of hitting the gym as hard as they possibly can. Again, this is a major mistake. You must keep your exercise balanced with adequate nutrition and enough rest to allow your muscles to rebuild.

The process of building muscle requires an approach that takes into account all aspects of your personal well-being. Let the transformation begin!

• Ahwatukee Foothills resident Paula Owens is a nutritionist, fitness expert and weight loss coach with more than 20 years of experience. Reach her at

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