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What everyone needs to know about the muscular system

“Muscle” stems from the Latin word musculus which translates as “tiny mouse” and alludes to the similarity of how a contracting muscle looks like a tiny mouse moving under the skin. A person would be unable to move or even stand up straight if they didn’t have any muscles. The heart would not be able to beat and the digestive tract could not do its job.

There are basically three different types of muscles in the human body, notably smooth, cardiac and skeletal muscles. The smooth muscle tissue is part of the muscular hollow viscus and is found, for example, in the digestive tract, the blood vessels and the uterus. The heart is an exception, as it has its own specialized type of muscle. Skeletal muscles, by contrast, make up the largest part of the muscular mass, and consist of more than 400 individual muscles. In an adult of an average weight they comprise around 40% of the body weight, whereby this is slightly less in women than in men. Skeletal muscles enable arbitrary movements to be made, contribute toward muscle reflexes and perform a core holding and supporting function for the body. They also play a part in keeping the body temperature constant. If the body cools down too much, the muscle system is activated and releases heat by means of trembling.

The muscle mass continually adapts to the body’s needs. Increased physical activity results in muscle growth. This does not mean that more muscle cells are created, but rather that the existing muscle fibers are thickened. This increase in size of skeletal muscles is known as hypertrophy and is a reaction to the increased strain put on the muscle. However, as soon as there is a decrease in physical strain, the body reduces excess muscle mass once again. This occurs as a result of reduced physical activity, immobilization caused by injury or being bedridden. The process is particularly noticeable when observed in astronauts who have spent long periods in space, thereby losing muscle mass as a result of a lack of gravity.

A reduction in muscle mass also goes hand in hand with the natural ageing process in a human being, and loses on average 3-5% of its strength every ten years starting from the age of 30. Hormonal changes are the main reason for this but a reduction in physical activity and nutrition also play a decisive role.

A decrease in muscle mass is not only a sign of the ageing process. It can also indicate pathological processes such as muscle, nerve and tumor diseases as well as nutritional deficiency and malnutrition. If muscle mass is below the normal range for a person of a particular age, it is referred to as sarcopenia. It involves reduced muscle strength and is seen to be a precursor of frailty. Muscle loss, especially early on, can be concealed if it is accompanied by an increase in fatty tissue. Whilst the weight remains at the same level, the relative percentage of fatty and muscle tissue change. As a result, there is every risk of developing so-called sarcopenic obesity, which is primarily the case in older people.

A reduction in muscle mass generally leads to a drop in physical performance, mobility and quality of life. Consequently, skeletal muscle mass is a good indicator for determining the condition of health and training in a human body. The measurements are used for screening and therapy control, and are most widespread in sports medicine, rehabilitation medicine as well as anti-ageing medicine and geriatrics.

The bioelectrical impedance analysis (BIA) using seca mBCA is one way to measure skeletal muscle mass. It is a precise method which is characterized by a high user and patient friendliness. The seca mBCA is non-invasive and can determine the percentage of muscle mass within a few seconds. Consequently, it can be used for regular follow-up examinations without any problems. Indeed, the measurement does not only take place if the person concerned is hospitalized. A BIA can be carried out on patients in the comfort of their own home using the mobile seca mBCA 525, which even detects tiny changes to muscle mass that can be treated at an early stage. Subsequent follow-up examinations allow a close evaluation of the therapy.

As an important element in moving, supporting and holding, musculature plays a key role in all phases of life and is maintained by means of physical activity and, above all, a protein-rich diet. In addition, regular BIA examinations can help with targeted muscle building and can detect pathological muscle loss at an early stage.

Ultimately, muscles not only improve the external appearance but also help maintain physical performance and quality of life into old age.

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