Why Fat Is Important for Looking Great

Dr. Janet Zand

December 6, 2019

 

 
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If you boil down our culture’s messages about diet, fitness, and appearance, you might get something like this: “Muscle is good. Fat is bad.” But is this always true?

It’s true that exercising, building muscles, and keeping your bones strong are good for your health. But there’s one place on your body where you need plenty of muscle and plenty of fat in order to look your best. Here’s how you can use fat along with muscle to look fabulous.

So where do you need fat along with muscle? You guessed it: Your face. Without fat, your face will look gaunt and unhealthy. But without proper muscle tone, you’ll start to have saggy, droopy skin. By keeping the right balance between the two, you’ll give the impression that your whole body is as toned, youthful, and energetic as your face.

For most of us, the amount of fat isn’t the problem. The problem is where it ends up. As we age, our skin becomes less elastic. The fat pads that support our skin and give it a full, round, youthful appearance begin to thin and slip. This can make your face start to look saggy and jowly. (Though you can’t blame your face for fat around your middle – it doesn’t slip that far).

In order to keep these fat pads where they’re supposed to be, you need the muscles underneath them to stay strong. A foundation of strong muscles helps keep your skin tight and wrinkle-free. And you keep your facial muscles strong just like you do all your other muscles: with diet and exercise.

Wait – Exercise? For Your Face?

You bet. In fact, research has found that following a facial exercise program for 20 weeks could make you look an average of three years younger. And you can do it sitting down!

For this study, researchers asked women between the ages of 40 and 65 to attend two 90-minute, in-person training sessions on how to perform facial exercises. Then, the women did the exercises at home every day for 30 minutes for eight weeks. After week eight, they did the exercises for 30 minutes every other day until the end of week 20.

The researchers evaluated the effects of the study by asking dermatologists to assess photographs of the participants, including asking them how old they thought the participants were. The dermatologists assessed the photos at the beginning of the study, at the end of week eight, and at the end of week 20. Their average age estimate went from 50.8 years to 49.6 years to 48.1 years as the study progressed. The participants agreed that the exercises made a difference and reported being highly satisfied with the results.

If you'd like to give this program a try, you can find instructions on how to perform some of the various exercises the participants used by following this link.

The creator of the Happy Face Yoga program, Gary Sikorski, served as one of the coauthors on this study. Once you get the hang of the moves, you can easily do them during your commute, while you watch TV, or as you're working. There aren't many other exercise programs that are this easy to do anywhere!

So exercise for your face is possible – and simple!

The Other Half of the Equation Is Diet

Hopefully, you’re already eating a healthy diet with high-quality protein and produce. But many people don’t realize how important certain vitamins and nutrients are to the health of their muscles. Unless you eat a very carefully balanced diet, you may need a supplement to help fill in any gaps and ensure your muscles have what they need to stay strong with age.

In particular, new research is highlighting the importance of vitamin D in maintaining muscle. Researchers examined data from 4,157 adults aged 60 and up who participated in the English Longitudinal Study of Aging. They used two common measures of muscle function to assess their muscle strength: hand grip strength and the Short Physical Performance Battery.

The researchers also looked at the participants’ vitamin D levels. And they found some interesting correlations.

The researchers classified any participant with a blood serum concentration less than 30 nmol/L as vitamin D deficient. This is the level at which risk of bone disease starts to go up.

As it turns out, this level is also associated with muscle weakness. In fact, 40.4% of the D-deficient adults had weak muscles. Only 21.6% of the adults with adequate D levels were weak.

The difference grew even starker when the researchers looked at impaired muscle performance. One-fourth (25.2%) of the adults with D deficiencies were impaired. Only 7.9% of those with enough vitamin D had similar issues.

After statistical analysis, the researchers concluded that vitamin D deficiency led to a significant increase in older adults’ chances of suffering from muscle weakness and impairment.

The researchers recommend vitamin D and exercise to help protect your muscles and bones. This combination can help your skin look its best as well.

Some people like to get their exercise and vitamin D by being active outdoors. This can be effective. But it might not be the best strategy for your facial skin. If you get your vitamin D from the sun, you’ll be ready for sun protection after about 10 minutes. Consider exposing your arms and legs for 20 minutes. This is not always possible and for those months consider a vitamin D supplement.

Try to get enough vitamin D to keep your levels between 50 and 80 ng/ml. You can ask your doctor for a blood test to see where you’re at. IA supplement of 1,000 to 5,000 IU a day is usually sufficient, depending on your D3 blood level.. This will help keep you well away from the “deficiency” level the researchers identified in their study. And it will help keep your muscles strong as you age—including your facial muscles.

What About Amino Acids?

Another type of supplement people like to use to keep their muscles strong is branched-chain amino acids (BCAA). You may have heard that these supplements will trigger your body to build muscle after you lift weights. It's true. So they could help your facial muscles stay strong after you exercise them.

However, they don't give your body all the tools it needs to actually do that effectively. That's because while they do contain some amino acids (hence the name), they don't have all of the essential amino acids the body needs for maximal muscle growth.

Researchers at the University of Stirling found that BCAA are slightly more effective than a placebo in triggering muscle growth. But results were far better when exercisers took a whey protein supplement that contained not only BCAA but the other essential amino acids for building muscle. In fact, the whey protein group had double the response of the BCAA-only group.

If you want to keep your muscles vital, taking a supplementary product to enhance muscle growth and tone is a solid idea whether you're exercising regularly or a couch potato. Just make sure you're taking a product that supplies you with all the amino acids you need to actually boost muscle growth, such as Advanced Protein Powder. I personally use Advanced Protein Powder I can’t say I use it daily, but try to get it in several times a week. I notice that when I keep it up, my energy and my muscle tone improve.

Like the product used in the study, the Advanced Protein Powder is a whey protein powder chock-full of all the necessary amino acids to maintain muscle mass. You'll get 15 g of muscle-building protein in every serving. You may never have thought of a protein shake as a beauty tool, but it turns out that it can be!

The Final Secret

Finally, to protect your muscles, you also need to keep inflammation low. You know that inflammation is bad for your skin – and your health in general. In fact, many researchers refer to its effects as "inflammaging" because of how it impacts the aging process. And researchers in Sweden have found that it also can cause you to lose muscle mass.

The researchers exposed isolated muscle cells to C-reactive protein (CRP), a marker of inflammaging and infection in the body. Previous studies have found a correlation between high CRP levels and low muscle mass. But it wasn't clear if CRP was actually the cause of the muscle loss.

Sure enough, the researchers found that CRP reduced muscle cell turnover and functionality. The muscle cells exposed to the CRP actually shrank. And the researchers also found that CRP affected the muscle cells' ability to synthesize proteins. Without this ability, muscles can't grow effectively.

This study tells us that to fight muscle mass loss as you age, you have to do two things: build up muscle and decrease inflammation. Fortunately, you can do both of these simultaneously by exercising. You'll fare even better if you swap a pro-inflammatory sedentary activity like watching TV for some interval training. And of course, continue with all the other anti-inflammatory strategies we talk about often. This includes making other healthy lifestyle choices like getting enough sleep, keeping hydrated, and minimizing stress.

It is possible to overdo the exercise and have so much muscle tone that the face begins to look a little gaunt. If this happens to you, consider adding more healthy fats into your diet and speaking to a nutritionist to help ensure you’re getting the sufficient nutrition. But most of us are much more likely to have too little muscle, especially as we age. With the right strategies, we can help our bodies feel – and look – stronger and years younger.

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