High muscle volume in middle age tied to lower cardiovascular disease risk

Middle-aged adults who have more muscle mass have decreased cardiovascular disease, a new study suggests.

Higher levels of lean muscle mass in middle age are tied to a lower 10-year cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk, regardless of conventional risk factors like obesity, diet, income, diabetes, high blood pressure, smoking, and abnormal cholesterol levels.

Muscle tissue volume begins to gradually decline over the age of 30 at an approximate rate of 3 percent every ten years. It plays a pivotal role in many metabolic processes, and if it declines, many diseases may arise, including an increased risk of premature death.

A team of researchers found that the amount of lean muscle middle-aged adults have is associated with their future risk of heart disease.

The study, which was published in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, further strengthens the results of past studies that show how muscle mass can increase heart attack or stroke risk. However, these studies focused more on the health outcomes of patients with existing heart disease.

Image Credit: KieferPix / Shutterstock
Image Credit: KieferPix / Shutterstock

Maintaining muscle mass key to reduced CVD risk

The new study focuses on how muscle mass in middle-aged adults with no existing health problems can affect their risk of developing cardiovascular disease in the future. The researchers concluded that maintaining muscle mass tissue volume can ward off heart attacks and strokes, and can promote cardiovascular health, at least in men.

To land to their findings, the team followed 2,020 participants, with 1,019 who are 45 years old and above from 2001 to 2002. All the participants were healthy, without cardiovascular disease such as heart disease at the start of the study.

Aside from basic information, they were asked to provide data about their diet and physical activity. Plus, the team took into consideration certain known risk factors like levels of circulating blood fats, inflammation markers, body mass index (BMI), and blood pressure.

To measure muscle mass, the researchers measured and calculated skeletal muscle mass, which was also adjusted for the participants’ BMI measurements. Within the 10-year-period, less than 27 percent or 272 cases of cardiovascular disease, including minor stroke and stroke, developed in the 1,019 middle-aged participants.

Men more affected by muscle mass and CVD risk

Interestingly, they also found that men were about four times more likely to develop cardiovascular disease than women, and muscle mass volume was linked to the risk of having cardiovascular disease. The participants with the highest muscle volume had the fewest cases of heart disease or stroke, compared to those with the lowest muscle mass at the beginning of the study.

The researchers measured that those with the highest level of muscle mass were 81 percent less likely to have a stroke or heart attack. Moreover, the incidence of diabetes elevated blood pressure, and obesity, which is all known risk factors for cardiovascular disease, were also lower in those with the highest muscle mass.

The difference between men and women in terms of developing cardiovascular disease is linked to having higher muscle mass in men and certain hormonal differences between sexes in the aging process.

What is cardiovascular disease?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is an umbrella term used to describe diseases affecting the cardiovascular system, including the heart and blood vessels. CVD refers to certain conditions that involve narrowed or blocked blood vessels that can lead to potentially fatal events, such as angina (chest pain), myocardial infarction (MI) or heart attack, or stroke.

The American Heart Association (AHA) defines CVD as health problems related to a process called atherosclerosis, which is a condition that occurs when plaque accumulates in the walls of the arteries. As a result, the blood vessels narrow, making it hard for the blood to pass through. In worse cases, when a blood clot forms, it can block the flow of blood, leading to a heart attack or stroke.

Journal reference:

Tyrovolas S, Panagiotakos D, Georgousopoulou E, et alSkeletal muscle mass in relation to 10 year cardiovascular disease incidence among middle aged and older adults: the ATTICA studyJ Epidemiol Community Health Published Online First: 11 November 2019. doi: 10.1136/jech-2019-212268, https://jech.bmj.com/content/early/2019/10/16/jech-2019-212268

Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

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Angela Betsaida B. Laguipo

Angela is a nurse by profession and a writer by heart. She graduated with honors (Cum Laude) for her Bachelor of Nursing degree at the University of Baguio, Philippines. She recently completed a Master's Degree where she specialized in Maternal and Child Nursing and is now working as a clinical instructor and educator in the School of Nursing at the University of Baguio.

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