The muscular system is composed of various types of muscle, with each playing a crucial role in the overall function of the body. Without muscles, the human body simply wouldn't exist. Since muscles do much more than just help us to move, work out and feel our best -- exactly what is the function of the muscular system?
In short, the answer is that through either voluntary or involuntary contractions, muscles create movement and heat by transferring energy. The muscular system functions as support for posture and joints, in addition to being key in the digestion and circulation processes.
The muscular system is a group of interconnected tissues, including over 600 different muscles that fall into three categories — outlining the difference is key to understanding the function of this complex system.
Skeletal muscles connect to the skeleton and are used voluntarily, meaning the brain consciously tells them to contract. These are the muscles that we use to run, lift weights or perform any other deliberate movements, extending and contracting them at will. Skeletal muscles like quadriceps (in the legs) and biceps (in the arms) connect to bones via tendons, ligaments and other connective tissues. This group of muscles also supports the body as a whole, from protecting the organs to maintaining posture.
Smooth muscles are responsible for engaging organ, respiratory and blood vessel functioning. These involuntary muscles help to keep organ systems working properly — they control the movement of food through the digestive system, regulate airway passages, and dilate or contract blood vessels.
Exclusively surrounding the heart, the involuntary cardiac muscles enable the heart to pump blood throughout the body. Cardiac muscles create rhythmic contractions that allow the blood to be transported through the circulatory system. Both cardiac and smooth muscles are controlled by the autonomic nervous system, allowing involuntary muscle functioning to continue while skeletal muscles are simultaneously engaged in other tasks.
A strong body, stable joints and the ability to move without hindrance are good indicators of a healthy muscular system. It can become increasingly difficult to maintain muscle form as we get older, specifically in the absence of weight bearing exercise. Muscle mass reaches its peak around age 40 but can naturally start to decline as much as 3-5% every decade at some point in your 30's, even if you are active. Reduced physical activity overall as we age is another potential factor that may contribute to the decrease, reinforcing the importance of prioritizing movement and resistance training as a foundation for living longer, stronger.
Research has shown that aerobic and resistance exercise can help mitigate the progression of age-related muscle changes in most cases -- and that doesn't mean suddenly taking on an intense fitness program. When it comes to developing an exercise routine for muscle health, incorporating 150 minutes of physical activity over the week that includes 2-3+ resistance training workouts and some cardio will go a long way to support a strong, healthy body.
Whether you choose mild weight-bearing exercise or more robust strength training, the right nutrients are also an important part of supporting a healthy muscular system. Quality, whole foods contain the protein, vitamins and minerals necessary for the body to maintain muscle mass. Protein is an essential nutrient for both muscle building and maintenance that can be found in a number of plant or animal based sources, including eggs, poultry, red meat, fish, nuts, seeds, beans and legumes.
Healthy carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables and whole grains are also vital to the muscle-building process as they provide the body with energy for exercise. In addition to whole foods, incorporating an all-in-one nutritional support powder can provide the body with high-quality protein plus the essential vitamins and minerals it needs daily to support a healthy muscular system.