16 Feb 2023 • 8 min read
You might not think about your muscles very often but it’s important to keep them strong and healthy throughout your life. Find out how you can do just that with our guide
Written by Charlotte Haigh on February 21, 2019 Reviewed by Sammy Margo on March 7, 2019
You might only give your muscles a second thought when you get an injury in the gym, or notice your toned abs in the mirror and feel proud that your hard work’s paying off.
But your muscles have a major impact on your health throughout your life, especially as you get older.1
Your body has around 600 muscles, each made up of thousands of tiny fibres. Every fibre is controlled by a nerve, which makes it contract. The strength of a muscle depends on how many fibres it contains.2
There are different types of muscle, including smooth or involuntary muscle in parts of your body, like your intestines. But generally, when we talk about muscle, we mean skeletal muscle that moves the external parts of your body, such as your limbs and face.3
There are two different fibres found in skeletal muscle, and most of your muscles will contain a mix of the two:
1. Slow twitch – these types of fibres contract slowly, and can work for extended periods without getting tired. They are well-suited to endurance activities, such as long-distance cycling.4
2. Fast twitch – these fibres contract in short bursts. They’re perfect for fast movements, such as jumping or moving your eyes up or down, but they tire very quickly.5
Strong muscles can help:6-9
If you’ve been to a particularly challenging exercise class, you’ll be familiar with DOMS – delayed onset muscle soreness – which happens when you move your muscles in a different or more intense way, resulting in microtrauma to the fibres.
The soreness passes after three to five days, and you can help it along with ice packs, rest and massage. DOMS is a natural process that leads to increased strength as your muscles recover and rebuild.10 While soreness after exercise is normal, a more severe pain that may affect your movement is likely down to a muscle tear. Self-care – such as rest and ice packs – will usually help but see your doctor if the pain is very severe or doesn’t ease.11
As we get older, our muscle mass can decline if we don’t take steps to protect it; we naturally start to lose muscle after the age of 25. By the time we’re 65 or older, 10-20% of us have low skeletal muscle function and mass, known medically as sarcopenia.12 And poor muscle strength may be on the rise – a 2018 study even revealed 10-year-olds have lower muscle strength than kids of that age 16 years earlier.13
Advice is for information only and should not replace medical care. Please check with your GP before trying any remedies.