Muscle Mass Reduces Mortality Risk

A new study published in the American Journal of Cardiology highlights the importance of maintaining muscle mass, particularly for people with cardiovascular disease. UCLA researchers found that higher muscle mass lowered the risk of death among patients with heart disease. The study points to the usefulness of analyzing body composition to determine cardiovascular and total mortality risk in people with cardiovascular disease.

What the Science Says… Hispanic woman at gym lifting dumbbell

For previous studies, researchers used a very simple and common technique called bioelectrical impedance method to measure body composition. They discovered that muscle mass exerted a possible preventive impact on mortality and metabolism in healthy people.

For this most recent study, researchers used a more advanced method of body composition analysis called X-ray absorptiometry. They investigated the effect of muscle mass on patients with cardiovascular disease in particular. Researchers analyzed data from 6,451 cardiovascular disease patients participating in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999-2004. Subjects were arranged into four groups:

  • Low muscle/ low fat mass
  • Low muscle/high fat mass
  • High muscle/low fat mass
  • High muscle/high fat mass

They found that heart disease patients with the greatest muscle mass and lowest fat mass had the lowest mortality risk. Results also revealed that high muscle mass reduced the risk of death even in individuals with a high fat mass.

What the Science Shows

The researchers point out two main takeaways from the study. First, the protective effect of muscle mass may help shed light on the “obesity paradox”—the fact that people with higher body mass index have lower mortality levels. And second, that the focus shouldn’t just be on weight loss when it comes to increasing longevity and slashing heart disease risk, but also on building and maintaining muscle mass.

The authors of the study encourage people to start increasing muscle mass with resistance training. Resistance exercises incorporate resistance bands or dumb bells to cause muscles to contract against an opposing force, which helps to build strength, tone, mass, and endurance.