New research from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), suggests that the more muscle mass older adults have, the less likely they are to die prematurely. The study, published in the American Journal of Medicine, found that building muscle mass is important in decreasing metabolic risk. The findings add to the growing evidence that overall body composition is a better predictor of all-cause mortality and not the widely used body mass index (BMI), according to a UCLA Health Sciences news release.

The research team analyzed data collected by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) III, conducted between 1988 and 1994. The researchers focused on a group of 3,659 individuals that included men who were 55 years or older and women who were 65 years or older at the time of the survey. The authors of the study then determined how many of those individuals had died from natural causes based on a follow-up survey done in 2004.

The body composition of the subjects of the study was measured using bioelectrical impedance. Researchers found that all-cause mortality was notably lower in the fourth quartile of muscle mass index compared with the first quartile. Essentially, “The greater your muscle mass, the lower your risk of death,” according to Arun Karlamangla, MD, a co-author of the study.

Karlamangla adds, “Thus, rather than worrying about weight or body mass index, we should be trying to maximize and maintain muscle mass.”

Preethi Srikanthan, MD, of UCLA, explains that despite the limitations of the study, “We conclude that measurement of muscle mass relative to body height should be added to the toolbox of clinicians caring for older adults. Future research should determine the type and duration of exercise interventions that improve muscle mass and potentially increase survival in (healthy), older adults.”

Source: UCLA Health Sciences