In Slovak language the word athlete (atlét) refers to a person who competes in track&field events – sprints, jumps, throws. Gradually, it is acquiring the American meaning, where athlete refers to any professional sportsperson or an individual who is fit and trains regularly.
Time ago, most of the people moved regularly. Now only athletes move. Athletes are people for whom sports is a part of lifestyle and not just a means to get the beach body, kill time or have an excuse to go for a beer after a session.
In the past, people were more like athletes, even if they were not aware of it. My grandfather told me stories that when he was a small boy, he worked hard every day on the field old helped with the horses. People ate what they grew at home or bargained with the neighbours in exchange for services. His father was a repairman, who fixed the horse carriages for the people. At that time it was the main means of transport, so he was as needed as a car mechanic.
Today, we do not work in the fields or in factories but we sit behind in the office. It is enabled by the technological advance, which, however, is a two-edge sword. Our body will forget that it was made to move – hunters and gatherers walked dozens of kilometres to get the food, soldiers marched in full armour. Human body is getting accustomed to new conditions and positions. We do not need so much muscle mass like our predecessors needed. It is beneficial to have some, indeed, because of several reasons.
After thirty years old, people start to lose muscle mass. It is the beginning of the aging process. In ten years we lose 3 to eight percent of muscle mass; depending on the genetics and activity of the particular individual. With muscles gone, the joints lose stability and we are at higher risk of falling and suffering an injury.
Changes in the body composition alter the hormone levels, often towards the bad. It can be one of the reasons behind depressions and stress. Everyone knows that physical activity releases endorphins – the hormones of happiness and the word sports in Latin means “to enjoy the time”. Stress results in higher risk of cardiac diseases because the hormones release emergency mechanisms.
Active people who move regularly build up some muscle mass and the aging process is offset. They can earn a few more active years of their life. Sometimes they are out of the game with an injury, but on the other hand, they are more resistant to sickness and diseases.
Movement keeps the body young and slows down the degradation of muscle mass at the older age. According to this Ted Talk, young men in their twenties, who significantly reduced their physical activity for two weeks, lost on average 14 percent of muscle mass!
Muscles do the work and therefore they need energy – the basal metabolism rate increases. One kilogram of muscle mass burns additional 12 calories a day. During intense activity it can be up to 60 calories. Muscle mass does not mean that a person looks like a bodybuilder. Neither are required to look like an athlete. It is enough if we get rid of some excessive fat tissue and replace it with muscles, which is natural and healthy process of adaptation to the exercise stimulus. Fats are needed for some hormonal functions, but too much fat results in building up of harmful substances and related health issues.
In half a year, a person can lose 5 kg of fat and build 3 kg of muscle mass. Three kilograms of muscles can increase the daily energy expenditure by 200 calories, which is half litre of Coke or half Cheeseburger from McDonalds or half kilogram of carrot or three shots of vodka. Further examples can be found here. Athletes are at advantage because their bodies burn more energy even if they do not move. Muscle mass needs to cover the requirements. It is enough to stimulate it regularly, so that the body feels that it is needed.
When running, and during similar cardio activities the people do when they want to lose weight, the body increases energy expenditure only during the activity. Metabolism gets back to normal shortly after we stop. Strength training build muscles that burn energy even when we do not exercise. Apart from that, intensive workout triggers hormonal response and body switches to muscle-building and fat-burning regime.
It is ideal to combine both types of training. It requires basic knowledge of human body, strong will and regular exercise. A man must be an athlete. For a beginner it is enough to do two strength sessions and two cardio sessions a week – but they must be regular.