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How to Gain Healthy Weight
Posted by Dr. Ben Kim on Aug 23, 2013
If you are underweight for your body structure, it's possible that you could experience significant improvement in your health by gaining and maintaining healthy weight.
A healthy body weight often indicates that your major organ systems - including your muscles and bones - are well developed. Of course, being at a healthy weight for your structure doesn't guarantee that your major organ systems are functioning well, but a healthy body weight does decrease the likelihood that you might have or develop osteoporosis or problems with regulating your blood sugar and insulin levels.
Being significantly underweight is often indicative of a weak digestive system. If your digestive system isn't working efficiently, you may not be optimally absorbing and making use of the nutrients in the foods that you eat.
What follows are some suggestions on how to gain healthy weight, or how to help ensure healthy proportions of skeletal muscle, fat, bone, and other body tissues.
Ensure Optimal Digestive Tract and Liver Health
To build and maintain healthy cells, you have to supply your cells with a steady stream of healthy nutrients. And you can't do this if your digestive tract or liver are not functioning at a high level. Actually, building and maintaining healthy cells requires all of your organ systems to be healthy, as you can't deliver nutrients to your cells without the help of your heart, lungs, kidneys, skin, immune system, endocrine system, and nervous system.
But nourishing your cells for growth and maintenance begins with absorption of nutrients into your bloodstream, which occurs in your digestive tract, and processing of nutrients so that they can be delivered to your cells, which takes place in your liver.
Here are a few simple tips on how to ensure optimal digestion of the foods that you eat:
Chew your foods well - until liquid is best.
By chewing your foods until liquid, you take burden off of your digestive organs and increase the likelihood that most of the nutrients in the foods that you eat make their way into your bloodstream.
Ensure physical and emotional rest while you eat.
Your stomach, small intestine, pancreas, gall bladder, and liver require extra blood flow to digest a significant meal. Being physically active or emotionally distressed while you eat diverts blood away from your digestive organs and to your skeletal muscles and nervous system. Lack of optimal blood supply to your digestive organs during a meal decreases digestive efficiency.
Ensure regular exposure to friendly bacteria.
Having healthy colonies of friendly bacteria in your digestive tract is critical to your ability to optimally break down the foods that you eat, extract nutrients from these foods, and ensure safe delivery of these nutrients through the wall of the top third of your small intestine to your bloodstream.
The most effective stand-alone source of friendly bacteria that I can recommend is Synbiotic Plus.
To keep your liver healthy, it's important to avoid regular consumption of alcohol, acetaminophen, and foods that are deep-fried and/or high in refined sugar; over time, repeated exposure to these substances is likely to cause injury to your liver cells.
Stay Hydrated and Get Enough Calories from Nutrient-Dense Foods
All of your cells - including your muscle cells - are composed mainly of water. Protein, fatty acids, and cholesterol provide much of the structure of your cell membranes and the organelles that live inside of your cells (like mitochondria, ribosomes, golgi apparati, genetic material, and endoplasmic reticuli).
So staying optimally hydrated is essential to building and maintaining healthy body weight. And the best way to stay hydrated is to eat plenty of foods that are naturally rich in water, and beyond this, to allow your sense of thirst to dictate the amount of liquids you drink.
Many people who look to build skeletal muscle mass are under the impression that they have to eat large amounts of protein. It's true that protein is needed to build and maintain some of the framework of muscle cells and organelles contained within muscle cells, but my experiences have led me to believe that it's best not to eat more than half of your body weight in grams of protein per day. For example, if you weigh 150 pounds, as long as you eat foods that are rich in healthy fats, healthy carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, enzymes, and water, you don't need any more than about 75 grams of protein per day to optimally fuel your skeletal muscles; any more than this, and over time, some of your digestive organs and kidneys may experience premature disease.
If you want to gain healthy weight, once you ensure optimal digestive tract and liver health, it's important that you get enough calories to fuel growth. But in order to preserve good overall health as you gain healthy weight, you must get these extra calories from healthy, nutrient-rich foods.
Avocados, olives, sweet potatoes, organic eggs, and smoothies made with nut milk are all good choices for fueling growth while providing your cells with health-promoting nutrients. Raw, organic nuts are also a good choice, but I've found that for most people, it's best not to eat more than about a handful of nuts per day - regularly eating more than a handful of nuts per day may lead to a decrease in digestive efficiency.
In my opinion, there are too many potential disadvantages to using isolated protein powders and supplements like creatine to include them in your diet. The best fuel for healthy weight gain are natural, minimally processed foods.
Regularly Engage in Exercises and Activities that Build and Maintain Your Largest Muscle Groups
There are many health benefits to building and maintaining your largest muscle groups. Some of these benefits include healthy blood circulation, good posture and skeletal health, good joint health, and increased confidence in your ability to perform various physical tasks.
Perhaps the greatest benefit to building and maintaining your largest muscle groups is optimal blood sugar and insulin regulation. Your skeletal muscles act as sponges that soak up and store sugar, so the more skeletal muscle mass you have, the greater capacity you have to keep your blood sugar and insulin levels at healthy levels.
This is not to say that it's to your benefit to get involved with intense weight training to develop your skeletal muscles. Heavy weight training can be performed with minimal risks, but for the average person, the potential to experience injuries with intense strength training is probably greater than the potential to improve overall health.
You can develop and maintain your largest muscle groups by adopting a routine of simple exercises that can be done without compromising your health.
The most important muscle groups to develop and maintain are in your
- Back region
- Chest region
- Lower extremities
When you exercise these major muscle groups, your smaller skeletal muscles are simultaneously developed and maintained. For example, when you work your back muscles, you also work your biceps, forearms, most of your shoulder rotator cuff muscles, and the rear heads of your shoulder muscles (deltoids). When you work the muscles in your chest region, you also condition your shoulders and your triceps. And when you exercise your bum and hip muscles, you also work your thigh muscles.
You can easily work all of these muscle groups with exercise equipment at a local fitness center. But it's just as easy to work these muscle groups at home or at a local playground. Here's how:
How to Develop and Maintain the Muscles in your Back Region:
Find a bar that is strong enough to support your body weight - monkey bars at a local playground are perfect. Hang onto the bar or bars with both hands and bend your elbows slightly. Lift as much of your body as possible off the ground - if you can lift your entire body off the ground, feel free to do full or partial chin-ups; if you can't lift your body off the ground, keep your feet on the ground, load your arms with as much tension as you can comfortably bear, hold for a second or two, return to your starting position, and repeat for 10-15 repetitions. After 10-15 repetitions, rest for a minute or two, then do two more sets of 10-15 repetitions.
The goal is to force your arms to lift at least some of your body weight upward, even if it's just a little bit at first and your feet are still supporting the bulk of your weight on the ground.
How to Develop and Maintain the Muscles in your Chest Region:
Nothing beats push-ups to develop and maintain the muscles in your chest region. If you can't do full body weight push-ups, try doing them while resting on your knees, rather than on the balls of your feet. If you find knee push-ups to be difficult as well, start with push-ups against a wall. Just the act of pushing your body away from a surface - whether the surface is horizontal or vertical - will force you to exercise the muscles in your chest region.
As with the pull-up exercise, aim to do about 3 sets of 10-15 repetitions each, with about a minute or two of rest in between sets.
How to Develop and Maintain the Muscles in your Lower Extremities:
Brisk walking is more than adequate for this purpose. For more advanced development, try walking in a hilly area. Another way to further develop the muscles in your lower extremities is to climb several flights of stairs every day - these activities will also provide a good workout for your cardiovascular and respiratory systems.
When doing any resistance exercises like the ones described above, it's important to follow a specific pattern of breathing; you want to exhale when you are contracting the target muscles, and inhale when you are allowing the target muscles to return to regular length. For example, when you do push-ups, you should exhale when you push away from the surface that you're doing push-ups on, and inhale when you are going back toward the surface that you're pushing off of. When you do pull-ups or partial pull-ups, you should exhale when you pull-up, and inhale when you go down.
Breathing in this manner - exhalation during concentric contraction and inhalation during eccentric contraction - helps to ensure that you do not run out of breath while you exercise. It also helps to ensure that you do not increase the pressure in your abdominal, thoracic, and neural cavities to dangerous levels.
If you're new to doing resistance exercises, it's fine to do some every day at first. But as you become more comfortable with exercising your large muscle groups, it's best to give your body a day of rest in between exercise sessions. After forcing your muscles to work, they need rest to heal and become stronger. The more intense your workouts are, the more rest time you need in between workouts. How can you tell how much rest is appropriate in between workouts? A good general rule of thumb is that you should not have muscle soreness and you should feel well rested before you exercise again.
If you try exercises like the ones described in this section, and find that they're just not for you, I encourage you to take up any type of yoga that emphasizes holding various stretches and poses for many seconds at a time. Regular practice of yoga may not develop the same degree of muscle mass, but it will certainly promote strong and flexible muscles throughout your body.
Ensure Regular and Restful Sleep
As alluded to in the previous section, regular and restful sleep is critical to your ability to gain healthy weight. Your muscle cells need time to recover from exercise. To grow bigger and stronger, your muscle cells require optimal production of growth hormone and testosterone; the bulk of your growth hormone and testosterone supply is manufactured and released into your bloodstream during restful sleep.
For detailed information on this topic, please feel free to view:
Few people are free of vanity. But it doesn't take much thought to realize that it's foolish to try to gain significant muscle mass while deteriorating health with unhealthy foods, questionable supplements, and over-the-top weight lifting regimens.
As long as you remember that staying healthy as you age is the priority, building and maintaining skeletal mass is a good thing.
Please note: You should always consult with your personal physician before beginning an exercise program. You may also want to consult with a certified personal trainer who can help you choose the best exercises for your specific needs.
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