Do you want to know what the fountain of youth is?
According to Srikanthan et al (2014) it is the building and maintaining of muscle mass. The study was composed of data from over 3,600 subjects and looked at comparing BMI with that of muscle mass with regards to long term health. The results showed that BMI was pretty much useless but that the amount of muscle someone had was quite a good indicator of health and longevity.
It seems as if being strong and muscular is better for your health in the long run than being weak and fat.
BMI has always had its critics in the scientific community due to the fact that it doesn’t take body composition (muscle and fat) into account, just weight and height. I understand it was always just a blunt (and now apparently useless) tool. My issue with it has always been that BMI is just one more reason for people to get hung up with their weight as a marker for health and wellbeing. If I had a euro for every time I heard someone say “if I could just lose a stone I’d be healthy and happy” I would be a wealthy man.
I honestly could not give a **** what someone weighs.
It doesn’t matter. What matters is what type of tissues makes up the weight they have. Someone could be 100kg of lean tissue or 100kg with a lot of adipose (fat) tissue. There is a massive difference.
Let’s look at a case study; Leinster and Ireland’s Cian Healy.
According to Wikipedia Cian is 1.85m and 112kg.
BMI is weight in kg divided by height squared.
This means that Cian has a BMI of 32.51
Now according to BMI he is over 30 which makes him “obese”.
Obese is it? Say that to his face.
So what does this mean for you?
The moral of the story is that if you want to maximise the likelihood of living a long and healthy life then you should be taking steps to build muscle and maintain it in the long run. This means performing some sort of intelligent resistance training on a regular basis. According to Dr. Srikanthan one should “focus on trying to maintain the maximum amount of resistance training that you can, and stop worrying so much about dropping calories” (Intagliata, 2014). As well as the resistance training stimulus needed to build and maintain muscle mass a high protein diet also goes a long way in keeping muscle on your frame as protein from food is essentially the building blocks needed to build muscle. The standard recommendation for protein intake (0.8g per kg body mass) are woefully inadequate and for most people intake should be at least double that.
The study provides correlative evidence but no causative evidence. I however have a few thoughts on how muscle mass may play a part in long term health:
1. Better insulin sensitivity: This means you deal with carbohydrates better and are therefore less likely to have blood sugar regulation issues and more likely to have a lower bodyfat. This is massively important as blood sugar issues are linked to nearly every major non-communicable disease (heart disease, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s)
2. Higher basal metabolic rate: muscle burns a lot of energy at rest than so even when you are resting you are burning more fuel (fat and carbs). You essentially have a bigger engine in which to burn fuel if you have more muscle.
3. Improved balance: Strength is a major contributor to balance and falls are a major indirect cause of death in the elderly. To put this in perspective; are you more likely to fall on the ground and hurt yourself if you trip while unloaded or if you are wearing a 50kg weight vest? Obviously you are more likely to fall with the vest on because you weigh more relative to your strength levels and so you will be less able to support your weight when you stick out a leg to catch yourself. Elderly people, especially elderly people carrying a lot of excess bodyfat, essentially walk around all the time with this strength discrepancy because they are so weak relative to their bodyweight. This makes them vulnerable to falling. The fall and possible broken hip may not kill them right then and there but the trip to the disease filled hospital, the knock on effects of a surgery from the anesthetics and the risk of infection may kill them.
4. Improved mental health: Being too weak and immobile to be capable of performing basic tasks such as getting up and down from chairs/toilets, tying shoe laces, etc is sure to take its toll mentally resulting in a deleterious increase in stress and anguish. The likelihood of this incapacitation happening is going to be much less if you stay strong as you will be combating age related muscle mass.
Even if strength training and the subsequent muscle building does not increase life span it sure as hell will improve life quality. Who wants to be the older person who struggles to get up and down from chairs because their leg musculature has wasted away so badly from inactivity and sarcopenia (age related muscle loss)?
The idea is not to survive, the idea is to thrive.
Here is a video of one of our older clients Helen who trains with us here in our strength and conditioning facility in Cork. As you can see, strength training has made a massive difference to with regards to her quality of life.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chbJH3zS9Mk (this needs to be imbedded)
In this video she is pumping out some technically beautiful Romanian deadlifts with a 30kg dumbell!
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sX2d6Bvdvo0 (this needs to be imbedded)
As some extra motivation, here is a video including a number of older people who have obviously stayed strong throughout their entire lives. These lads should be idols to us all (except maybe with regards to their choice of training attire).
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kaoY6gumdYg (this needs to be imbedded)
- Intagliata, C. (2014). Muscle Mass Beats BMI as Longevity Predictor. Available: http://www.scientificamerican.com/podcast/episode/muscle-mass-beats-bmi-as-longevity-predictor1/. Last accessed 18th Jun 2014.
- Srikanthan, P., Karlamangla, A. S. (2014). Muscle Mass Index As a Predictor of Longevity in Older Adults. The American Journal of Medicine. 127 (6), 547-543.
This Article is By Ciarán O Regan, BSc | Head Coach at ACLAÍ
Ciaran has served as Strength and Conditioning Coach for Limerick Minor Football for the 2012 and 2013 seasons as well as the Limerick U21 Footballers for the 2013 season. He has coached with Young Munster RFC, and also interned with Munster Rugby. He has also coached on an individual basis with people as varied as those simply wanting to get healthier and lose weight all the way to high level runners returning to the track after injury.