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

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Want to feel younger? New research from the University of Michigan suggests you may want to invest in some weights and begin a strength training course. According to a recent study, weak muscles could be just as influential on your longterm health as smoking cigarettes!

Not everyone ages at the same rate. Consider two adults, both 60 years old. While those two people may share the same chronological age, one may be far younger from a biological aging perspective. Aging is influenced by far more than 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 biological aging processes. Dealing with a serious illness can also age the body at an accelerated rate.

In short, your body may be aging at a much faster rate than the birthdate on your driver’s license suggests. Now, for the first time ever, the team at UM reports that muscle weakness marked by grip strength, a proxy for overall strength capacity, is connected with accelerated biological age. According to the findings, the weaker your grip strength, the older your biological age.

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

The team at Michigan Medicine modeled the relationship between biological age and grip strength among 1,274 participants, all of whom were either middle aged or older adults. This was accomplished via three “age acceleration clocks” based on DNA methylation, a process that provides a molecular biomarker and estimator of the pace of aging. Those clocks were originally crafted from earlier studies focusing on a variety of ailments including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, physical disability, Alzheimer’s disease, inflammation, and early mortality.

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The ensuing results revealed both older men and women display an association between lower grip strength and biological age acceleration across DNA methylation clocks.

Handgrip strength test with digital hand dynamometer at a functional medicine center
Scientists at the University of Michigan say that handgrip strength may strongly correlate to biological aging. (© Microgen – stock.adobe.com)

“We’ve known that muscular strength is a predictor of longevity, and that weakness is a powerful indicator of disease and mortality, but, for the first time, we have found strong evidence of a biological link between muscle weakness and actual acceleration in biological age,” says lead study author Mark Peterson, associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at University of Michigan, in a university release. “This suggests that if you maintain your muscle strength across the lifespan, you may be able to protect against many common age-related diseases. We know that smoking, for example, can be a powerful predictor of disease and mortality, but now we know that muscle weakness could be the new smoking.”

One of this project’s biggest strengths was the eight to 10 years of observation performed. Results show that lower grip strength indeed predicted faster biological aging measured up to a decade later, according to study co-author Jessica Faul, a research associate professor at the UM Institute for Social Research.

Prior studies have suggested that low grip strength appears to be a strong predictor of negative health events in general. One project reported it is a better predictor of cardiovascular events, such as myocardial infarction, than systolic blood pressure, which is considered the clinical hallmark for detecting heart disorders. Prof. Peterson and his team have even previously uncovered a strong association between muscle weakness and chronic diseasemortality across population samples.

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

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“Screening for grip strength would allow for the opportunity to design interventions to delay or prevent the onset or progression of these adverse ‘age-related’ health events,” he adds. “We have been pushing for clinicians to start using grip strength in their clinics and only in geriatrics has this sort of been incorporated. However, not many people are using this, even though we’ve seen hundreds of publications showing that grip strength is a really good measure of health.”

Strength training could prevent ‘inflammaging?’

Moving forward, more research is needed to form a stronger understanding of the association between grip strength and age acceleration, such as how inflammatory conditions may contribute to age-related weakness and mortality. Prior studies tell us that chronic inflammation in aging, or “inflammaging,” is a strong risk factor for mortality in older adults. That same type of inflammation is also linked to lower grip strength, and may serve as a significant predictor on the pathway between lower grip strength and both disability/chronic disease multi-morbidity.

Also, future studies should focus more on how lifestyle and behavioral factors like exercise and diet may influence both grip strength and age acceleration, Prof. Peterson adds.

“Healthy dietary habits are very important, but I think regular exercise is the most critical thing that somebody can do to preserve health across the lifespan,” he concludes. “We can show it with a biomarker like DNA methylation age, and we can also test it with a clinical feature like grip strength.”

The study is published in the Journal of Cachexia Sarcopenia and Muscle.

Comments

  1. Working out and being healthy is a great thing for sure, but it’s impossible to control factors and differentiate between the effects of hiit and muscle training for example

  2. I totally agree with the study, I am 75 years old and I used to do a lot of different sports and running. But now I’m into a program of weightlifting and swimming., And I’m notice a total difference in my well-being and my life.

  3. I feel like I may have fewer injuries from lifting and body weight exercises. When I need to move furniture, work on the roof, car repair and etc, I am strong enough and flexible enough to not get injured. I think extra strength offers protection in the event of a fall or accident.

    There are so many benefits like bone strength, muscle strength/protection, immune system, coordination and balance, sleep quality (linked to many illnesses), overall work ability.

    I think the key is to start light and develop good form first. Then use patience and gradually add weight/resistance and sets. Especially for those of us over 60!

  4. According to a MacArthur foundation study on ageing from the nineties (the subject of the book “Successful Ageing”) it’s actually smoking that’s the new not exercising. Obviously both are bad for you, but according to that book if you have a choice between stopping smoking and starting exercising, starting exercising is the way to go (but, you know, do both).

  5. Yes!! Strength training is a must as well as maintaining an Ideal body weight. Our society is now accepting Obesity as normal!!! It’s not! Very unhealthy! Eat healthy, excercise (cardiovascular and strength training). Been doing since I was 20yrs. I’m now 56 and won a plank competition. Held plans for 50 minutes!

  6. Yeppers. Been doing weight workouts since 1972. I’m 70 and everyone thinks I’m 50-something. I get those 50-yo young uns and just groom the heck out of them.

  7. Completely agree. Best if resistance training + aerobic is a lifelong practice. Also avoiding smoking, drugs, and unhealthy foods if you want to age well. Common sense. Learn to lift weights properly first to avoid injuries, and there are plenty of videos on YouTube that address this (e.g. bench technique so not to injure your shoulder). Regarding grip strength as an indicator, I think it is not the absolute grip strength that matters, but the deterioration of your personal grip strength over your lifetime. If Tom has increased his grip from age 30 to age 60, then he probably is in better chronological shape than Bill, who at age 60 still has a grip strength greater than Tom’s, but whose grip strength is much less than what he had at age 30.

  8. I kind of like the 3-second exercise, but I would like to start a little easier. How about one second a day for three days? And that would be it until the following month.

  9. walking,.daily….LIGHT.. exercise of the muscle groups…yes…THAT.. is the key to longevity…(from what I have noticed,)…as well as… olive oil/vegys /clean protein/wine/and a few carbs..(NO..NOT KETO)!…and keeping the mind occupied. …for sure…….weights?…. say hello to injury from over doing it…(and its easy to do that)…and past 60 years…?..you do not get a lot back, once injured…..healing takes a long time …if at all…and you just pay for your thinking your still 20… everyday…blow a hip,a knee, or a back…ect…and .you will age faster then most anyone you know…,thats whats at stake….imho..of course.”.use it yes…so you do not lose it”…but throwing yourself into a high intensity program with a lot of years under your belt??is nuts.

    1. I agree that injury is very likely if the person doesn’t have the proper training or body awareness. I am now 64 and have been doing significant weight/band training for about 15 years. I was lucky to have had a lot of training in yoga and the usage of weights etc. after injuries when I was younger. I used to have chronic, serious back trouble and sciatica. I haven’t had any back issues in YEARS – for me, having a strong back and abs has cleared that. I know my limits and work within them. For anyone who wants to get stronger and healthier, knowing one’s limits and working to extend them SLOWLY is the key. Working with an exercise trainer and/or physical therapist is ESSENTIAL, at least for awhile.

      1. Absolutely…You get it…Millennials and xers do not…But they will !,trust me,LOTS of THEM..,they will!!…I myself,for one, do not get caught up in the craze ,of the moment ,I.E…,,crypto,. carbs are absolutely…, evil….politics are EVERYTHING….ect…Hey…Life is for living…not wasting,and for those of you..(.you know…),,,the grammar police???,well…If shaming folks is your thing…,Well?? good luck to you in life..and I …DO… mean that..Honestly..Hey…life is about connection..NOT proving yourself ,superior…..As for myself..??.,I myself have enjoyed my time here…Kids,wife, lots of love,dogs ,and good people…I do not regret a bit of it.Age has been harsh on me.(blue Collar)..and all..excuse me,,,for giving a crap…….so those of you that find me problematic,,,??? and call me insane for sharing a few thoughts ,?out of grammer class.and all….sorry for irritating you..really…I mean it.It was a mistake for me to even comment ,(I guess).,.Gets me thinking,.though…its the limited mind sets that miss the whole point of things,and thats unfortunate…for all of us ,yes?

        1. Carbohydrates are NOT evil.
          Broccoli? Carbs.
          Spinach? Carbs.
          Oatmeal. Carbs!
          Apples? So many carbs.
          Strawberries? Are you genuinely trying to saying that strawberries are bad for you? Carbs!
          Beans and grains are both largely carbohydrates and both have consistently been linked to longer healthspan.

          Carbohydrates from whole foods are great for you and the foundation of any healthy diet. You’re conflating carbohydrates as a group with refined carbohydrates- added sugars and processed foods. Those WILL wreck your health over time.

          Please change from vilifying carbohydrates to attacking processed foods and added sugars.

  10. Did people with smaller (or larger) hands get a different dynamometer sized proportionately? It seems like those with larger hands would be at an advantage, but perhaps I don’t know the biomechanics well enough.

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