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  • Writer's pictureNick Allen

Why muscle mass and strength are essential for longevity

While most acknowledge the importance of maintaining a healthy body weight, body composition is an underrated component of health that is actually more important than weight alone. The way I see it, the benefits of strength training come in two forms: mechanical and metabolic.

The mechanical benefit is what you would typically think about when comparing a muscular athlete to a frail individual. The former is far less likely to fall walking around the house, for example, and if they did they would almost certainly escape a serious injury. However, these events are common in frail, inactive, individuals — and the consequences are often severe. One of our newsletters from earlier this year discussed how around 25% of hip fractures in the elderly result in death within six months.

This can be easy to ignore as a young, healthy individual, but it will catch up to you eventually. Accidents become a major cause of death as people age, and if strength training habits are not picked up early it can be very difficult to stay ahead of the curve. Still not convinced of the importance of strength training? Another signal is the fact that grip strength, something that seems very niche, is one of the best predictors of longevity. One would assume that this is also due to mechanical factors, since the muscles responsible for grip strength aren’t large enough to have a significant metabolic impact.

As a whole, however, muscle tissue is critical to maintaining a healthy metabolic state. We’ve spoken previously about how muscle is the biggest glucose sink our body has. In other words, muscle cells are great at taking up sugar from the blood and converting it to mechanical energy. This is why putting your muscles to work via exercise is one of the best ways to keep your blood sugar in check. Additionally, lean body mass is the most influential factor in determining your daily energy expenditure. This is because one’s muscle mass is closely correlated to their basal metabolic rate. In today’s world where chronic diseases dominate the leading causes of death, it is remarkably important to simply remain on the right side of the energy in, energy out equation. Muscle is critical for maximizing the “energy out” component.

None of this is to say that you have to be bulky and muscular to live a long, satisfying life. In fact, it seems to be the case that functional strength, not sheer volume of muscle mass, is the key to longevity. This means that you can be thin and still derive the same benefits, as long as you’re strong relative to your body size. Additionally, it’s important to acknowledge that cardiorespiratory fitness is also critical to health. An adequate training program for longevity must have components of both strength training and cardiovascular exercise. Each brings unique benefits, and no individual can truly reach their full potential without placing emphasis on both.


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