Study: Higher Muscle Strength May Help You Live Longer
While you can’t stop the relentless march of time, maintaining muscle strength may add a few years to your life and dramatically reduce the effects of aging on your body.
Previous studies have shown that any kind of aerobic exercise helps protect against heart disease, cancer, and diabetes. But new research by Michigan University indicates that people with stronger muscles are 50-percent more likely to outlive their peers who didn’t exercise for muscular strength.
“Maintaining muscle strength throughout life—and especially in later life—is extremely important for longevity and aging independently,” said lead researcher Kate Duchowny.
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Strength Linked to 50-Percent Lower Risk of Early Death
In the investigation into how strength relates to aging at the University of Michigan, Duchowny and the research team examined data from 8,326 senior adults aged 65 and older who are part of the institution’s Health and Retirement Study.
They used a dynamometer, a device that shows the strength in kilograms (kg) when squeezed, in order to measure the grips of participants. The researchers used “cut-points” or thresholds based on nationally representative samples to define levels of strength. They identified weakness as a hand grip of less than 22 kg of women and 39 kg for men.
Data analysis revealed that 46 percent of the study’s population was weak at baseline. While in contrast, earlier research indicates that only 10 to 13 percent of American seniors have poor strength, but these findings were based on thresholds less representative of U.S. demographics.
After adjusting the results for a smoking history, chronic health problems and sociodemographic factors, the researchers concluded that people with poor muscle strength had a 50-percent higher risk of early death.
“We believe our cut-points more accurately reflect the changing population trends of older Americans and that muscle weakness is a serious public health concern,” said Duchowny. “Many aging studies—not just those on muscle strength—are conducted on largely white populations. However, as the U.S. population becomes increasingly diverse, it is critical to use nationally representative data for these types of studies.”
Grip Strength Is Key for Independent Living
Of all the muscles in the body, researchers found that strength in the hand muscles was the most important. Hand functionality is essential for performing everyday tasks, such as dressing and cooking, that make independent living possible in the golden years. In fact, hand grip strength is inversely related to disability and limitations in mobility. Yet, despite the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of handgrip tests, they aren’t part of most physical examinations.
Studies increasingly suggest that muscle strength is a more accurate predictor of general health and longevity than muscle mass. Unfortunately, strength declines with age. Which is why Duchowny believes that their study “further highlights the importance of integrating grip strength measurements into routine care—not just for older adults but even in midlife.” She goes on to say, “having hand grip strength be an integral part of routine care would allow for earlier interventions, which could lead to increased longevity and independence for individuals.”
Strength, Muscle, and Age
There are two kinds of muscles, type I muscle fibers which are increased through endurance-based training such as running. While type II are increased through resistance like weight training.
In a study by Boston University, they found that “beyond the age of thirty, humans lose approximately 6 lbs of muscle mass per decade. Surprisingly, aging individuals predominantly lose type II muscle. Thus a 50-year-old may be relatively good at playing tennis or jogging because type I muscle is preserved, but a measurement of grip strength or core body strength could show appreciable declines.
Start Weight Training at Home
Although a gym membership is always an option, you can start weight training at home with a pair of adjustable dumbbells. Look online for instructions for beginners and start with light weights or weights you feel comfortable with, before gradually increasing the heaviness and weight over time. Aside from building strength, weight lifting increases bone density which helps prevent fractures in the process. The improved muscle tone also serves to protect joints and promote better balance as well. Finally, these findings may be relevant for understanding certain aspects of the aging process but, further research and time will give more definitive answers.