As a population, we are bombarded on a daily basis with theories about how to extend our lives. While the ideas often come with decidedly scary undertones – as in reports of curtailing unexpected side effects of everyday-use products, and how to prevent or overcome disease – good news also sometimes infiltrates the headlines: coffee being proven to be beneficial to health, or the heart-healthy effects of dark chocolate.
Another new finding, though decidedly less delicious, falls into the latter group, namely that building muscle mass can help Americans live longer. The study, which was published in the American Journal of Medicine and combines previous UCLA research, found that “building muscle mass is important in decreasing metabolic risk.” To put it in layman’s terms, when older Americans have more muscle mass, they are less likely to die prematurely.
For many years, body composition has been determined using the body mass index, or BMI, which is determined using this calculation: BMI = weight in pounds/(height in inches x height in inches) x 703 (where 703 is used to convert the index from the original metric version of the formula). Despite the formula’s popularity, it’s not accurate, and health professionals are increasingly choosing different criteria with which to gauge what’s healthy.
The UCLA study’s findings support this departure. The findings add to the growing evidence that overall body composition – not BMI – is a better predictor of all-cause mortality (defined as the total number of deaths relative to the total population). “In other words, the greater your muscle mass, the lower your risk of death,” said one of the study’s authors. “Thus, rather than worrying about weight or body mass index, we should be trying to maximize and maintain muscle mass.”