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Dr. Nicholas Perricone Headshot

Michelle Obama -- The Right to 'Bare' Arms

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Much has been written about Michelle Obama's penchant for sleeveless garments -- in fact, maybe too much.

Media attention notwithstanding, Michelle is not the first First Lady to favor sleeveless outfits.

Jacqueline Kennedy-Onassis, perhaps the world's greatest fashion icon, was often photographed wearing sleeveless dresses, as was her sister, another international fashion leader and trend setter, Lee Radizwill.

A quick Google image search of Jacqueline (pre Onassis) Kennedy will show her in a multitude of sleeveless dresses and tops; a flowered sun dress with JFK in Hyannisport, on a trip to India in 1962 with Lee, or in the famous portrait of Jackie, JFK and baby Caroline.

Always the height of classic beauty and style, Jackie's tenure in the White House added a youthful glamor and vibrancy that has not been seen since the 1960's.

Flash forward to 2009. A new decade and a new millennium.

Enter new First Lady Michelle Obama, an icon in the making and, in addition to her more serious endeavors, rapidly becoming the darling of the fashion world. Her every move (and clothing choice) is scrutinized under the microscope, photographed and chronicled by a rapt media who simply cannot seem to get enough. And this includes her penchant for going sleeveless.

At the heart of the matter is not so much the choice of 'baring arms,' but rather the fact that Mrs. Obama has such toned arms to begin with.

Long the bane of the average women, the upper arms are often the first part of the body to show loss of muscle tone. The dreaded 'batwings,' i.e., sagging triceps, cause many women over the age of 35 to eschew sleeveless altogether.

A women's triceps can be notoriously difficult to firm and tone unless you are a dedicated and regular lifter of free weights. Since the triceps make up 2/3 of your arm, they deserve the extra attention needed to maintain muscle mass.

The good news is that there are a number of strategies, in addition to exercise, that help us achieve this goal.

Age-related Muscle Loss

Statistics show that we gain an average of ten pounds of body fat while losing five pounds of muscle mass with each decade -- highly visible in both face and body. Negative changes in our muscle mass, known as sarcopenia, along with the loss of critical bone mass (osteopenia and osteoporosis) also occur. Each and every one of these changes, whether external or internal, is the initial result of damage on a molecular and cellular level.

This damage is triggered by an inflammatory response triggered by free radicals.

The Muscle-Insulin Connection

While this concept might sound alien, to protect from muscle loss we need to regulate our insulin levels. As we age, this becomes a much great challenge because our insulin receptors do not work as well.

If we can prevent wild swings in blood sugar, we can avoid an inflammatory response and thereby prevent our insulin levels from going too high or too low.

· If they are too low, we cannot nourish our muscles and they begin to break down.
· If insulin levels are too high, we put a lock on the body's ability to burn fat for energy, and the body will store the fat instead.

We can avoid these swings by following these simple rules.

1. Do not overate at one sitting. Space meals and snacks evenly throughout the day.
2. As much as possible, eliminate sugars and starchy foods, which actually stimulate appetite.
3. Follow the anti-inflammatory diet of quality proteins, good fats, fruits and vegetables.
4. Add omega-3 essential fatty acids to our diets, which help "sensitize" our cells to insulin. The correct balance of EFAs enables the receptors to respond to even small amounts of insulin, helping us to maintain healthy blood sugar levels and ensuring an adequate uptake of sugar and amino acids into cells to build muscle and minimize fat storage.
5. Add a Niacin Bound Chromium supplement to help preserve muscle mass.
6. Add anti-oxidant rich foods and supplements to your daily diet.

Strong Arm Tactics

Three of my favorite ways to keep upper arms toned are working with free weights in conjunction with either Pilates or yoga.

The end result of following the anti-inflammatory diet will be the prevention of free radical-induced inflammation. There will be a great improvement in our physical appearance, decreased wrinkling and sagging of the skin, increased energy levels, elevated mood, better brain function, decreased body fat, greater muscle mass and stronger bones.

As an active researcher, I welcome your comments and suggestions.

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