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Minding Your Muscles For Immune Health In The Times Of COVID-19

Minding Your Muscles For Immune Health In The Times Of COVID-19
Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, and include resistance training to also help maintain muscles and strength.

Research suggests muscle health may impact the immune system. Hence, it is important to ensure that your muscles are healthy especially during COVID-19.

Written by Editorial Team |Published : July 8, 2021 2:00 PM IST

Our immune system is always at work, protecting against unwanted microbes or infections. And while our immune system is always operating, it is not usually top of mind unless one is sick or trying to avoid a virus. Following good-health guidelines like eating a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, exercising regularly and getting adequate sleep are natural ways to keep the immune system strong and healthy. But should we also be considering our muscle health when thinking about our immunity?

The Connection Between Muscles and the Immune System

Skeletal muscle accounts for about 40 per cent of total body weight and contains at least 50 per cent of all body proteins.[1] Muscles are well-known for their role in movement, strength and energy. However, there is evidence suggesting a relationship between muscle and immune function as well.

Muscles produce and release compounds which play an important role in the proliferation, activation and distribution of some immune cells.[2] And while additional research is needed, data suggests loss of muscle mass is associated with compromised immunity and infections.[3] Research in older adults has shown increased markers of inflammation associated with low muscle mass and muscle function.[4],[5],[6] Finally, muscle is also a major storage site for amino acids that are used by the body during a trauma or infection.[7] Therefore, low muscle mass coupled with inadequate protein intake may affect the body's response to an injury or infection.

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Given the evidence linking muscle to the immune system, maintaining or improving muscle health should be a priority.3

How to Maintain Muscle Health

Safeguarding muscle mass can be done with a few simple strategies mainly focusing on physical activity and proper nutrition. This is especially important as we age. Adults 40+ can lose up to 8 per cent of their muscle mass per decade - a rate that can double after the age of 70. To preserve muscles:

  • Engage in Regular Exercise: Aim for at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week, and include resistance training to also help maintain muscles and strength.
  • Eat Enough Protein: Incorporate protein foods, like chicken, seafood, eggs, nuts, beans or dairy into your diet, and aim for about 25-30 grams per meal. Adults 65+ may need up to to two times more protein than younger adults.[8] To amp up protein intake further, add in protein snacks, like one before bed or supplement your diet if needed.
  • Follow a Nutritious Diet: Choose a balanced diet full of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, proteins, healthy fats and key vitamins and minerals like calcium and vitamin D.

Making an effort to maintain or improve muscle mass can have extensive benefits on health. Many may immediately think of the role muscle can have on our strength and energy especially as we age, but research points to its positive impact on the immune system, as well.

(This article is authored by Dr Ganesh Kadhe, Associate Director, Nutrition Medical and Scientific Affairs, Abbott)

References

[1] Torre-Villalvazo I, et al. Nutr Res. 2019;72:1-17

[2] Nelke C, et al. EBioMedicine. 2019;49:381-8

[3] Argiles JM, et al. J Am Med Dir Assoc. 2016;17:789-96

[4] Visser M, et al. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2002;57:M326-32

[5] Atkins JL, et al. J Nutr Health Aging. 2014;18:26-33.

[6] Schaap LA, et al. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2009;64:1183-9

[7] Reeds PJ, et al. J Nutr. 1994;124:906-10

[8] Kerksick CM, et al. J Int Soc Sports Nutr.2017;14:33.