Strength training key to long life? Weak muscles ‘could be the new smoking’ when it comes to healthy aging

ANN ARBOR, MI – Want to feel younger? New research from the University of Michigan suggests you might want to invest in some weights and start a strength training course. According to a new study, weak muscles may have as much impact on your long-term health as smoking!

Not everyone ages at the same rate. Consider two adults, each 60 years old. While the two may be the same chronological ageone may be far younger than a biological aging perspective. Aging is influenced by far more than the days crossed off on the calendar; genetic, environmental, and behavioral factors all play a major role as well. Poor lifestyle choices like avoiding exercise, unhealthy diet, and smoking are all believed to accelerate the biological aging process. Dealing with serious illnesses can also age your body quickly.

In short, your body can age at a faster rate than the date of birth on your driver’s license. Now, for the first time, a team at UM reports that muscle weakness marked by grip strength, a proxy for overall strength capacity, is linked to accelerated biological aging. According to the findings, the weaker the grip strength, the older the biological age.

‘Strong evidence of a link between muscle weakness and acceleration in biological age’

A team at Michigan Medicine modeled the relationship between biological age and grip strength among 1,274 participants, all of whom were elderly or elderly. This is done through three “age acceleration clocks” based on DNA methylation, a process that provides molecular biomarkers and estimators of the pace of aging. The watch was originally created from previous studies focusing on a variety of diseases including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, physical disability, Alzheimer’s disease, inflammation, and early death.

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Later results showed that older men and women showed an association between lower grip strength and biological aging acceleration in the DNA methylation clock.

Grip strength testing with a digital hand dynamometer at a functional medicine center
Scientists at the University of Michigan say that grip strength may be related to biological aging. (© Microgen – stock.adobe.com)

“We already know that muscle strength is a predictor of longevity, and weakness is a strong indicator of disease and mortality, but, for the first time, we found strong evidence of a biological link between muscle weakness and a real acceleration in biological age,” said the lead author of the study Mark Peterson, a professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan, in a university release. “This suggests that if you maintain muscle strength throughout life, you may be able to protect against many age-related diseases. We know that smoking, for example, can be a strong predictor of disease and mortality, but now we know that muscle weakness can be new smoking.”

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One of the greatest strengths of this project is the eight- to 10-year observation that it takes. The results show that lower grip strength actually predicts faster biological aging measured up to a decade later, according to lead author Jessica Faul, a research professor at the UM Institute for Social Research.

Previous studies have suggested that poor grip strength appears to be a strong predictor of negative health events in general. One project reports that it is a better predictor of cardiovascular events, such as myocardial infarction, than systolic blood pressure, which is considered a clinical feature to detect heart disorders. Prof. Peterson and his team have even previously found a strong association between muscle weakness and chronic disease/mortality among population samples.

This previous work, in combination with these latest findings, suggests there is serious potential for clinicians to use grip strength as a screening tool for accelerated biological aging. This can help identify those who may be at risk of functional decline, chronic disease, and even early death.

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“Screening for grip strength will allow the opportunity to design interventions to delay or prevent the onset or progression of adverse ‘age-related’ health events,” he added. “We have pushed doctors to use grip strength in these clinics and only in geriatrics that have joined. However, not many people use this, although we have seen hundreds of publications that show that grip strength is a good measure of health.

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Strength training can prevent ‘inflammaging?’

Moving forward, more research is needed to create a stronger understanding of the association between grip strength and accelerated aging, such as how inflammatory conditions can contribute to age-related frailty and mortality. Previous studies suggest that chronic inflammation in aging, or “inflammation,” is a strong risk factor for mortality in older adults. The same type of inflammation is also associated with lower grip strength, and may be a significant predictor of the pathway between lower grip strength and both disability/chronic multi-morbidities.

In addition, future studies should focus more on lifestyle factors and behaviors such as exercise and diet can affect grip strength and age acceleration, added Prof. Peterson.

“Having a healthy diet is very important, but I think regular exercise is the most important thing anyone can do to stay healthy throughout life,” he said. “We can show it with biomarkers like DNA methylation age, and we can also test it with clinical features like grip strength.”

The study was published in Journal of Sarcopenia and Muscle Cachexia.

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