Older Adults: Build Muscle to Live Longer

New UCLA research suggests that the more muscle mass older adults have, the less likely they are to die prematurely. The findings add to the growing evidence that overall body composition — and not the widely used body mass index, or BMI — isa better predictor of all-cause mortality.

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

“As there is no gold-standard measure of body composition, several studies have addressed this question using different measurement techniques and have obtained different results,” Srikanthan said. “So many studies on the mortality impact of obesity focus on BMI. Our study indicates that clinicians need to be focusing on ways to improve body composition, rather than on BMI alone, when counseling older adults on preventative health behaviors.”

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.

The body composition of the study subjects was measured using bioelectrical impedance, which involves running an electrical current through the body. Muscle allows the current to pass more easily than fat does, due to muscle’s water content. In this way, the researchers could determine a muscle mass index — the amount of muscle relative to height — similar to a body mass index. They looked at how this muscle mass index was related to the risk of death.

They found that all-cause mortality was significantly lower in the fourth quartile of muscle mass index compared with the first quartile.

“In other words, the greater your muscle mass, the lower your risk of death,” said Dr. Arun Karlamangla, an associate professor in the geriatrics division at the Geffen School and the study’s co-author. “Thus, rather than worrying about weight or body mass index, we should be trying to maximize and maintain muscle mass.”

This study does have some limitations. For instance, one 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,” Srikanthan said. In addition, bioelectrical impedance is not the most advanced measurement technique, though the NHANES III measurements were conducted in a very rigorous fashion “and practically, this is the best situation possible in a study of this size,” she noted.

“Despite these limitations, this study establishes the independent survival prediction ability of muscle mass as measured by bioelectrical impedance in older adults, using data from a large, nationally representative cohort,” Srikanthan and Karlamangla write, adding that BMI’s association with mortality in older adults has proven inconsistent. “We conclude that measurement of muscle mass relative to body height should be added to the toolbox of clinicians caring for older adults. Future research should determine the type and duration of exercise interventions that improve muscle mass and potentially increase survival in (healthy), older adults.”

5 Fresh Fitness Trends for 2019

Day after day, Americans are bombarded with bad news about the country’s obesityrates and related negative side effects. Knee replacement surgeries among middle-aged adults increased 2.5-fold over the last decade, due in large part to rising obesity rates, according to recent government data. Obese teens seeking to lose weight still drink a lot of sugary soda and don’t exercise, a Temple University study found.

But according to the American Council on Exercise’s (ACE) just-released fitness predictions for 2012, some of these negative trends could be turning around. In fact, a recent Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index found improvement in U.S. obesity rates for the first time in more than three years. The report said that more Americans are now normal weight (36.6 percent) than overweight (35.8 percent).

And after ACE surveyed more than 1,500 personal trainers, exercise scientists, group fitness experts, and lifestyle and weight management coaches, the group found some positive attitude shifts among American dieters. For example, although many are still focused on quick weight loss tricks and gimmicks, there’s increasing interest in a long-term lifestyle changes for better health, says ACE exercise physiologist Jessica Matthews, MS.

“People are more focused on a complete picture of wellness, both emotional and physical,” Matthews says. “It’s not just about exercise; there’s really been a shift toward creating the best versions of themselves possible.”

Here’s how else ACE experts expect our approach to fitness and weight loss to change in the New Year.

  • Wellness training: Thanks to the average gym rat’s newfound focus on wellness, ACE predicts an uptick in lifestyle coaching — advice not just on workout routines and techniques, but on healthy eating, stress relief, and more. And you might not have to travel farther than your gym for the extra support: ACE found that fitness facilities are hiring more nutritionists and physical therapists to serve the expanding needs of their members.
  • Tech-fueled workouts: In 2011, personal logging devices such as FitBit, BodyMedia, and Nike Plus were the must-have fitness accessories to track workouts and share training successes with social networks. Whether you want to simply log calories with an app like Everyday Health’s My Calorie Counter or share your 5K training progress with your friends on Twitter, ACE predicts that technology-powered exercise will continue to be hot in 2012.   Personal training is also going high tech. ACE believes that more trainers will use technology to provide remote one-on-one or small group training, whether through uploading workout videos to YouTube or their personal sites, using software to view and track a client’s workout and nutritional information, or tweeting daily tips. Fitness facilities are getting savvier, too, creating more online, interactive fitness plans for their members.
  • Small-group training: Are you a Zumba dance fanatic? Love your local gym’s intense-but-effective boot camp class? ACE says that small-group classes such as Zumba, boot camp, TRX suspension training, and interval training will continue to be popular workout trends in 2012. Matthews says these classes are further evidence of a long-term shift toward workouts that emphasize core, balance, and stability, as opposed to more traditional cardio and weight training.
  • Weight loss support at work: You might not have a corporate gym, but ACE found that office wellness initiatives like team walking challenges or that Biggest Loser-style weight-loss competitions will be hot in 2012. A survey of 1,200 employers found that companies spent an average of $200 on wellness incentives per employee — anything from wellness competitions and prizes to gym memberships — in 2010, up 35 percent from $163 in 2009, and experts predict that number will continue to rise. ACE predicts that more business owners will provide discounts to outside fitness facilities and health clubs.
  • Fighting fad diets: Although ACE has seen great progress in diet and fitness education, Matthews says the average dieter still believes the best way to lose weight is through a restrictive or fad diet. As part of ACE’s efforts to combat this approach, the organization is providing better tools for trainers to help clients set healthier goals and stay motivated without crash diets. ACE also introduced a lifestyle and weight management coaching certification to help dieters understand what it takes to achieve long-term weight loss results.

For the full list of trends to watch, visit ACEFitness.org.

For more fitness, diet, and nutrition trends and tips, follow @weightloss on Twitter from the editors of @EverydayHealth.