Muscle Strength: The Unsung Hero in the Fight Against Mortality

In the pursuit of a longer, healthier life, the spotlight often falls on increased physical activity and maintaining a wholesome lifestyle. While these are undoubtedly vital aspects, recent research sheds light on a crucial factor that is often overlooked: muscular strength. This facet of physical fitness, distinct from muscle mass, plays a significant role in influencing our risk of mortality, independent of cardiovascular health.

The Critical Link Between Muscle Strength and Longevity

Recent studies have uncovered a significant association between muscular strength and overall mortality and disability as we age (Li et al., 2018). Although muscle mass and muscular strength are related, they are different factors: muscle mass refers to the total cross-sectional area of a muscle or muscle groups, while muscular strength refers to the maximum force generation capabilities of a muscle or muscle group typically expressed as a 1 repetition maximum. Research indicates that the decline in muscular strength is more strongly associated with mortality and disability in older ages (Lie et al., 2018). This is due to the consideration of neural factors in maximal muscular force production, such as the ability to optimally recruit muscle fibers (Lie et al., 2018).

Evidence suggests that age-related declines in muscular strength commence as early as the age of 40, with annual strength decreases ranging from 1.5 – 5% after 50 (Keller & Engelhardt, 2014). Notably, the PURE study, encompassing over 154,000 individuals internationally, found that a mere 5 kg decrease in grip strength corresponded to a 3.7% increase in all-cause mortality risk – the risk of dying from any cause (Leong et al., 2015). Thus, subtle reductions in muscular strength can cause significant increases in your risk from dying from any cause (Leong et al., 2015). See our blog post on grip strength for more information on this assessment of muscular strength.

The Imperative for Strength Training

Initiating a strength training program can counteract age-related declines in muscle strength, even in advanced years (Guizelini et al., 2018). However, it’s crucial to recognize that muscular strength in older age is heavily influenced by peak strength values achieved in earlier life stages (Landi et al., 2020). This underscores the advantages of commencing a strength training program earlier in life, building a substantial “buffer” against the effects of aging.

The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate activity per week to promote cardiovascular health and overall well-being (Haskell et al., 2007). Yet, Li and colleagues’ research revealed that the significant association between low muscular strength and all-cause mortality remained even if these ACSM guidelines were met (2018).

These findings emphasize that cardiovascular health and muscular strength are separate factors in all-cause mortality risk (Li et al., 2018). That is, to minimize the risk for mortality, both cardiovascular health and muscular strength need to be improved through targeted training. This insight emphasizes the need to incorporate strength training into our exercise routines, not merely as a supplement to aerobic activities, but as a crucial element for health maintenance and disease prevention (Li et al., 2018).

Embracing Strength Training for a Healthier Future

The correlation between muscular strength and mortality serves as a poignant reminder of the intricacies of human health. It prompts a shift in our perspective on leading an active, healthy life. Research highlights the importance of promoting and maintaining muscular strength, independent of cardiovascular health (Li et al., 2018). 

Are you ready to kickstart your journey into strength training but unsure where to begin? Take the first step by scheduling a free consultation with our experienced Strength & Conditioning Coaches at Connect Physiotherapy and Exercise. Let us guide you through the fundamentals and tailor a personalized plan to boost your muscular strength, regardless of your age or fitness level. Your path to a healthier, more resilient tomorrow starts here!

References:

Guizelini, P. C., de Aguiar, R. A., Denadai, B. S., Caputo, F., & Greco, C. C. (2018). Effect of resistance training on muscle strength and rate of force development in healthy older adults: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Experimental Gerontology, 102, 51-58.

Haskell, W. L., Lee, I. M., Pate, R. R., Powell, K. E., Blair, S. N., Franklin, B. A., Macera, C. A., 

Heath, G. W., Thompson, P. D., & Bauman, A. (2007). Physical activity and public health: updated recommendation for adults from the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 39(8), 1423–1434.

Keller, K., & Engelhardt, M. (2014). Strength and muscle mass loss with aging process. Age and strength loss. Muscles, ligaments and tendons journal, 3(4), 346–350.

Landi, F., Calvani, R., Martone, A. M., Salini, S., Zazzara, M. B., Candeloro, M., Coelho‐Junior, H. J., Tosato, M., Picca, A., & Marzetti, E. (2020). Normative values of muscle strength across ages in a ‘real world’ population: Results from the longevity check‐up 7+ project. Journal of Cachexia, Sarcopenia and Muscle, 11(6), 1562–1569. 

Leong, D. P., Teo, K. K., Rangarajan, S., Lopez-Jaramillo, P., Avezum, A., Orlandini, A., Seron, P., Ahmed, S. H., Rosengren, A., Kelishadi, R., Rahman, O., Swaminathan, S., Iqbal, R., Gupta, R., Lear, S. A., Oguz, A., Yusoff, K., Zatonska, K., Chifamba, J., … Yusuf, S. (2015). Prognostic value of Grip Strength: Findings from the Prospective Urban Rural Epidemiology (PURE) study. The Lancet, 386(9990), 266–273.

 Li, R., Xia, J., Zhang, X., Gathirua-Mwangl, W. G., Guo, J., Li, Y., McKenzie, S., & Song, Y. (2018). Associations of Muscle Mass and strength with all-cause mortality among US older adults. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 50(3), 458.

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Josh Langkamp

Josh is a highly skilled and committed strength and conditioning coach with a wealth of experience in physical performance enhancement and optimization. He holds a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology from the University of Alberta as well as a CSCS certification from the NSCA. His perspective is enriched by his background as a boxer and his love of sports like football and hockey. Josh places a strong emphasis on individualized care and thinks that the secret to reaching objectives is well-planned exercise. Josh is a dependable guide for improving athletic performance and fitness, with aspirations to advance in his physiotherapy career.