If there is a core principle at the heart of every morsel of health and lifestyle advice that we give away here at VP it could well be this: If you want your dog to live a long and happy life, you must minimize the amount of excess fat in her body. (We’ve expanded on that general principle here.)
This is a deceptively powerful little admonishment. It draws on several well-developed strands of scientific evidence, all of which suggest that excess body fat will decrease your dog’s quality of life, expose her to all manner of dangerous diseases, and increase her risk of premature death.
But take a second and think not about what this important principle is saying, but what it’s not saying. Specifically, note that the core of our fitness and lifestyle philosophy has nothing to do with losing, dropping, maintaining, or managing body weight.
Well, why not? “Losing weight,” you might say, “is what everybody talks about at my gym, it’s mentioned on the cover of virtually every health and fitness magazine on the rack, my lycra-clad mom and her aerobics buddies practically obsess over it. How could losing weight not be important to optimizing my dog’s health?!”
Unfortunately, when it comes to the topic of body weight, the usually clear-minded, unbiased, and properly-informed “general public” — yes, the same folks who regularly contribute their hard-earned money and attention to helping Heidi Montag, Honey Boo Boo, and Snooki become rich and famous — is just plain wrong. And the reason why the general public is wrong is simple: To optimize health and well-being (whether it’s your dog’s or your own), the evidence suggests that there are some weighty body tissues that you actually want more of in your body.
One such tissue that fits nicely within our little corner of the blogosphere is lean muscle.
Unlike white adipose tissue (“body fat”), studies have never linked excessive lean muscle mass with an increased risk of cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, hip dysplasia, or hypertension.
Quite to the contrary, there is mounting evidence that lean muscle plays a tremendous role in keeping bodies functional and disease-free and that it contributes significantly to longevity and overall well-being. That’s right, there is a growing consensus in the scientific community that building lean muscle mass helps your dog to live a longer and happier life.
If you’re more interested in explanations than broad, far-reaching claims (and I commend you if you are), then here’s a bit more detail about the specific ways in which it does so:
1) Lean muscle mass dramatically increases the availability of protein and constituent amino acids, which availability is tremendously important to maintaining whole-body metabolism and “organ reserve” (the functional capacity of organs to support life). Whole-body metabolism and organ reserve are absolutely vital to basic bodily life-support but they tend to break down as bodies age. Indeed, the very process of “aging” can be thought of as a failure of metabolism and organ reserve. Overall skeletal muscle mass and organ reserve generally tend to correlate throughout life. So more muscle = better ever-day life-support.
2) Relatedly, lean muscle mass improves acute responses to traumatic injuries, severe diseases such as advanced cancers, and other critical illnesses. It also helps to speed up recovery from such illnesses.
3) Lean muscle mass helps strengthen bones and improve bone density.
4) Lean muscle mass burns fat and excess calories (thereby decreasing overall levels of deadly body fat), even when in a resting, idle state.
Want to peruse the evidence yourself? No problem. Check out this study, published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, and (less directly) this one, from the American Journal of Physiology – Endocrinology and Metabolism, just for starters. Then, if you’re interested in diving even further down this little-recognized rabbit hole, you might want to consider the fascinating writings of Doug McGuff MD, University of California professor Arthur Devany, PhD, and (to a lesser extent) former professional athlete Mark Sisson. Here are some select readings to get you started:
All of these papers are geared toward human health and longevity, but the concepts they raise all apply equally well in the canine sphere.
Let’s wrap this up with a summary of the key point: If you want your dog to live as long and happy a life as possible, it actually behooves you to ensure that your pup packs a significant amount of lean muscle mass onto its bones.
Note that this broad statement applies equally well to dogs that tend to be less muscular, such as females and smaller, more wiry breeds. All else being equal, due to their genetic predisposition, some dogs will tend to develop bulkier muscles than others. This reality has no impact whatsoever on any of the foregoing strands of evidence because even less bulky dogs still have the capacity to build lean muscle and reap the significant rewards that come along with it, even if they don’t grow muscle as quickly as their bulkier counterparts. The goal here is simply to maximize your dog’s individual potential -– whatever that potential may be.
Ok, that’s more than enough for today. Have a great weekend everyone!
— Coach Dan