- General Health -

Does Muscle Mass Equal Heart Health?

Greater muscle mass is associated with a lower risk of cardiovascular disease, according to a recent study.

Heart flexing arm muscles

How much muscle you build now may determine how healthy your heart will be later.

That’s the finding of the recent 10-year ATTICA study published in BMJ. Researchers found that men entering middle age with plenty of muscle may lower their risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD) by an astounding 81 percent.

They did not find a similar pattern in female participants — probably because so few of them developed CVD during the study. (Women tend to develop the disease a decade later in life than men.)

The study involved 2,020 Greek men and women, about half of whom were 45 or older. None of them had been diagnosed with heart disease when they enrolled, but during the following decade, almost 27 percent suffered nonfatal or fatal CVD or a stroke.

The researchers determined that greater muscle mass was associated with lower CVD risk, regardless of diet, diabetes, or other risk factors.

The study does not prove that building muscle directly prevents CVD. But the team noted that well-muscled people tend to be more active, which protects the heart.

Muscle appears to also help reduce systematic inflammation, prevent buildup of arterial plaque, and regulate blood-sugar levels — all risk factors for CVD.

Muscle mass begins to flag in our mid-30s and typically declines by 3 percent or more per decade. “The prevention of skeletal-muscle-mass decline, which is becoming increasingly prevalent among middle-aged and older populations, may constitute an effective means of promoting [cardiovascular] health,” the team concluded.

(For an all-ages strength-training workout, see “All-Ages Strength Training.”)

This originally appeared as “Muscle Mass = Heart Health” in the July-August 2020 print issue of Experience Life.

is an Experience Life deputy editor.

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