Consider strength training for longer life

According to recent UCLA research, maintaining muscle mass can reduce risk of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases, and it may help you live longer, too.

The study, published in the American Journal of Medicine, led by Preethi Srikanthan, MD, assistant clinical professor in the endocrinology division at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, found that building muscle mass is important in decreasing metabolic risk.

“Greater muscle mass is associated with improved insulin resistance, which is at the root of both diabetes development and cardiovascular disease risk,” says Dr. Srikanthan. “We also found there was an association between the level of muscle mass and total mortality.”

Worry less about body weight; focus on building muscle

Everyone starts to lose a little muscle mass starting at about age 30. The loss can accelerate when you get older because people tend to be less active and at 65 years and older, muscle mass also declines at a faster rate. Sarcopenia is the medical term for severe skeletal muscle loss, which is typically associated with older adults. Preventing muscle loss through regular exercise helps guard against sarcopenia. But don’t worry if you’ve been sedentary for a while. You can increase your muscle mass at any age.

Even small changes in muscle strength can make a real difference in daily life especially in people who have lost muscle mass. A stronger body can make it easier to get up from a chair, climb stairs, carry groceries, open jars and play with your grandchildren.

Analyzing data from seniors reveals value of muscle mass

The researchers analyzed data collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III, conducted between 1988 and 1994. They focused on a group of 3,659 individuals that included men who were 55 or older and women who were 65 or older at the time of the survey. The authors then determined how many of those individuals had died from natural causes based on a follow-up survey done in 2004.

Muscle mass of study subjects was measured using bioelectrical impedance, which runs an electrical current through the body. Muscle allows the current to pass more easily than fat does, due to muscle’s water content. This is how researchers could determine a muscle mass index–the amount of muscle relative to height–similar to a body mass index. They looked at how muscle mass index was related to longevity.

According to the researchers, the study does have some limitations. For instance, researchers point out that you cannot definitively establish a cause-and-effect relationship between muscle mass and survival using a cohort study such as NHANES III. “But we can say that muscle mass seems to be an important predictor of risk of death,” says Dr. Srikanthan.

To build muscle mass, you must fail in order to succeed

Muscles love a good challenge. They build by straining against a resistance. That resistance can be a your own body weight, such as with pushups, using hand weights or a flex band. What’s key is that you work your muscle to a failure point, meaning that you cannot lift it again. You know you’re at the proper resistance level if it’s difficult to lift the weight when you reach about the eighth repetition. If it’s easy to get to 10, then you need more resistance. Generally you should perform three sets of 8-10 repetitions with about a minute’s resting time between each set. By your last set, you should not be able to complete 10. In other words, you’ve failed to lift the weight and therefore you have reached the point where muscle will build more efficiently.

Strengthening core muscles is just as important as building up the muscles of your arms and legs. Core muscles include abdominal, hip and shoulder muscles. They wrap your torso like a corset. A stronger core can improve balance and reduce risk of falls and fractures.

An active 70-year-old can be biologically younger than an unfit, sedentary 50-year-old. Exercise vigorously at least three times per week and you should see some results within a month. Experiencing the energy of stronger muscles can revitalize your body, mind and spirit. That may be enough motivation to maintain a healthy muscle-building habit for life.

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