Muscles are what make our bodies move. Without them, we would not be able to perform any of the essential mechanisms necessary for survival. This includes everything from walking and running to breathing and swallowing food.
While most of us know what muscles are and what they are used for, many of us are not familiar with the exact mechanisms that make them work.
By understanding exactly what goes into our muscles, we can learn how to keep them strong and healthy.
What Is Muscle Tissue?
Our muscles are made of tissue that gives them their characteristics. A tissue is made up of groups of cells that perform specific functions based on the body system they are part of.
The muscular system is responsible for almost all of our movement, both voluntary and involuntary. In order to accommodate various body activities, all types of muscle tissue have three main properties:
- Contractility allows cells to shorten or retract.
- Extensibility allows cells to stretch beyond their “normal” size.
- Elasticity allows cells to contract and extend without damage to their “original” state.
Unlike the rigid cells that make up our bones, for example, the cells that make up our muscle tissue allow for mobility. This is made possible by the two types of proteins that comprise them.
- Actin, the first of the proteins, is organized to be pulled.
- Myosin is organized to pull on actin proteins, creating contractions and extensions.
Together, actin and myosin create filaments, which are bands of tissue that make up our muscles. These filaments are organized in bundles within muscle tissue.
How Are Muscles Differ?
Our muscles have a unique set of properties that help them function in a way that differs from the rest of our body’s organs and tissues. Beyond these overarching properties, our muscles are made up of three different types of tissue.
While they have similar characteristics, they also each have their own responsibilities and functions.
Skeletal Muscle Tissue
Skeletal muscles allow the muscular and skeletal systems of the body to work together. These types of muscles are attached to our bones.
They are controlled by the central nervous system, which means that they are responsible for voluntary movement. This includes walking or picking up an object.
Smooth Muscle Tissue
Smooth muscles make up our hollow internal organs, through which body fluids and waste products are processed. This includes our blood vessels and bladder.
Smooth muscles are controlled by the autonomic nervous system, which means their movement is involuntary. For example, our blood vessels are able to carry blood throughout the body on their own. They do not require any conscious effort on our part.
Cardiac Muscle Tissue
Cardiac muscles are specific to the heart. They make up its walls and inner structure. Unlike smooth muscles found in other organs, cardiac muscle tissue is designed to create a strong and steady movement so the heart keeps pumping.
Cardiac muscles are controlled by the autonomic nervous system, creating involuntary movement. Their function is essential in keeping our hearts beating.
How Do Muscle Tissues Function
Our muscle tissues are complex in function, but they cannot work on their own. They enlist the help of other body systems and components in order to operate:
- Tendons are made up of collagen fibers that bind skeletal muscles to bones. They help bones and muscles work together to create movement.
- The epimysium, also made up of collagen fibers, wraps around muscle bundles to protect them. It also contains capillaries and nerves.
- Nerves connect muscles to the brain, allowing them to respond to signals. They are essential to muscle function because, without them, they would have no instructions.
Diseases that affects nerve function can cause a lack of muscle movement in some cases.
- Capillaries are tiny blood vessels that connect to tissue. All cells require oxygen and nutrients in order to function, including muscle cells.
Without capillaries to deliver these nutrients, muscle tissue may weaken or become susceptible to cramps and aches.
How to Keep Your Muscles Healthy
While each type of muscle tissue is different and has different needs, they all have the same basic characteristics and composition.
Here are some of the most important ways to maintain and improve the health of your muscles.
Load Up on Lean Protein
Your muscles are made from protein, so it is essential to incorporate them into your diet. Healthy protein sources include lean red meat, chicken, seafood, dairy, nuts, and legumes.
Energize With Healthy Carbohydrates
Movement requires energy, which our body gets from carbohydrates. Muscles are an especially significant consumer of energy in the body. Avoid overeating carbohydrates and choose whole-grain options for maximum benefits.
Focus on Key Vitamins and Minerals
Our bodies require a myriad of nutrients to function properly, but a few cater directly to our muscles. They include:
- The B vitamins, which aid in metabolizing energy for more efficient use
- Magnesium, which promotes relaxation and prevents muscles from cramping
- Potassium, which helps carry nutrients to your muscles
- Iron, which helps build red blood cells that move oxygen throughout the body
- Calcium and vitamin D, which help strengthen both bones and muscles
- Sodium, which regulates muscle contraction and nerve function
Hydration is very important, especially for people who are active. Muscles are mostly made out of water and may easily cramp or become sore if they are not hydrated enough.
Water also helps with delivering nutrients as well as lubricating joints.
Make Time for Exercise
Using your muscles makes them stronger! Any physical activity can be beneficial. Strength training is especially beneficial for your skeletal muscles, while cardiovascular exercise can improve your heart health. Exercise can help regulate sugar and cholesterol levels as well as lower blood pressure.
Stretching your muscles before and after exercise or at any time of the day helps to improve mobility and prevent cramps. It may also improve circulation and make you feel calmer.
Our bodies’ muscles need to relax, which is why sleep and rest are so important. Without sufficient rest, muscles can become tense and cause discomfort. Sleep increases blood flow to your muscles, allowing them to take in more nutrients and oxygen.
Sleep is also essential to energy levels, and our muscles thrive on energy. If you find yourself with low energy levels, we recommend sticking to a regular sleep schedule and addressing any stressors you may have.
Our muscular system works with all of our bodies’ systems in order to operate. While these relationships are complex, being familiar with the basics will help you be more aware of your body to keep it healthy.
Introduction to the Muscular System | National Cancer Institute
10.1 Overview of Muscle Tissues – Anatomy & Physiology | Oregon State University
Central nervous system: Structure, function, and diseases | Medical News Today