You might be surprised to find out that when it comes to fitness and body composition, the biggest predictor for lifespan, is not how fit your heart is from hours of cardio—it’s how much muscle you have. Unfortunately, due to sarcopenia, if you’re over 30 years old you will most likely lose muscle and strength every year…unless you do something about it. Read on to find out what you can do to live longer…
Increase Your Functional Ability And Live Longer
I’m in my late 40s, and I remember how sick and helpless my late father became from the age of 65. I fear that happening to me, which is why I have a relentless pursuit of health and fitness which encompasses my life. When I’m not training clients, I spend most of my spare time reading studies or books on health and fitness. Generally I will get through 2-5 books a week. Luckily I have a subscription to Kindle Unlimited, which helps me with my little habit. 🙂
Anyway, back to my father.…in his teens and twenties he was very strong for his size. I remember him recounting the story of how he carried one of the solid wardrobes/closets in our family home down two flights of stairs, by strapping it to his back.
However, towards the end of his life, he lost most of his muscle. He needed help to get out of bed, to sit on the toilet, and to get washed and dressed. He would slide down the seat of his wheelchair–being unable to even sit up properly.
I don’t want to become too weak to look after myself , and become a burden to my children. I have about 20 years to go, and I plan to continue increasing my strength and functional abilities every-single-year. I also prioritise strength and functional ability for my Personal Training clients, as well as looking good of course. So far, I’ve not experienced any decline in my strength. I’m sure it will come one day, but I want to stay ahead of the curve for as long as possible.
In a study of 4,504 adults aged 60 and older,1 the authors concluded that low levels of muscle mass was
“a common occurrence that is significantly and independently associated with functional impairment and disability.”
If you become critically ill, muscle wasting occurs rapidly during the first week of admission to an Intensive Care Unit (ICU)–it’s even more severe if you have multi-organ failure, versus single-organ failure. One study found that the rectus femoris muscle (one of the muscles at the front of your thigh), decreased by 17.7% after 10 days in an ICU.2 So if you barely ok at walking before you went into hospital, I can imagine you wouldn’t be able to stand at all by the time you left the ICU. A depressing thought.
In an observation of 240 critically ill patients3, the authors stated,
“We have known for over a decade that critical illness survivors suffer from significant functional disability after hospital discharge.”
They found that those patients who had low muscle mass upon admission, were twice as likely to end up in a nursing home when they were discharged, due to loss of functional ability.
So putting on some muscle is like putting money in the bank for a rainy day…you’ll be more capable than others when faced with a severe illness.
Likelihood Of Death
There have been a number of studies on the level of muscle versus mortality risk.
Researchers at UCLA examined the data of 6,451 participants4 who had cardiovascular disease (CVD)—most often narrow or blocked blood vessels leading to a heart attack or stroke. They concluded that those patients with a high muscle mass, regardless of whether overweight or lean, had less risk of death from CVD than the low muscle groups. There was a further increase in survival of those those who had high muscle mass, but were not overweight.
Living to Over 100 years old
2,239 men aged between 56–68 years old were studied over 44 years.5 One of the things they measured was grip strength. They discovered that those who had those who reached 100 years had more grip strength than those 30 years younger than themselves. The authors also attributed longevity to being physically active, not smoking, and the absence of chronic conditions by the age of 62.
What you can do to increase your muscle mass and LIFESPAN
Firstly, step away from the cardio section of the gym, and start occupying the space with dumbbells and barbells. Once you’ve received some instruction on correct technique, the free weights provide more natural and functional movements than the restrictive machines can provide.
Women often stay away from the weights for fear of getting bulky. That’s a myth. Women’s testosterone levels are only 1/15 that of a man, so it’s very difficult for a woman to grow muscles (unless taking performance enhancing drugs). You’ve probably also heard that muscle can “turn into fat.” That’s impossible!
How much weight to use? Well, if you can lift it with good technique for more than 12 repetitions then the weight is too light for you. My female training clients can usually knock out one minute of kettlebell swings with a 24kg weight—some can also swing 24kg one-handed.
Bikini Model Anna Churakova uses a 70k / 154lbs barbell for squats…that’s nearly 30% more than she weighs.
Weights such as dumbbells, barbells, kettlebells aren’t the only way to build strength. I also teach Calisthenics (a form of gymnastics strength training), and suspension training on the gymnastics rings. They are all useful methods to build muscle, strength and functional ability.
Strength training 2-3 sessions a week for 1 hour is all you need to start building some muscle. So give it a go this week, and start regaining some of that muscle you’ve lost since your youth.
George D. Choy
Personal Trainer & Calisthenics Instructor
Gymnacity in Oxted, Surrey, United Kingdom
 Low relative skeletal muscle mass (sarcopenia) in older persons is associated with functional impairment and physical disability. Janssen I, Heymsfield SB, Ross R; J Am Geriatr Soc. 2002 May;50(5):889-96. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/11344486_Low_Relative_Skeletal_Muscle_Mass_Is_Associated_with_Functional_Impairment_and_Physical_Disability
 Acute skeletal muscle wasting in critical illness. Puthucheary ZA, Rawal J, McPhail M, Connolly B, Ratnayake G, Chan P, Hopkinson NS, Padhke R, Dew T, Sidhu PS, Velloso C, Seymour J, Agley CC, Selby A, Limb M, Edwards LM, Smith K, Rowlerson A, Rennie MJ, Moxham J, Harridge SD, Hart N, Montgomery HE; JAMA 2013, 310: 1591-1600. 10.1001/jama.2013.278481. http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/1879857
 Skeletal muscle mass and mortality – but what about functional outcome?
Zudin A Puthucheary, Nicholas Hart; Crit Care. 2014; 18(1): 110.
Published online 2014 Feb 17. doi: 10.1186/cc13729 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4057190/
 Relation of Muscle Mass and Fat Mass to Cardiovascular Disease Mortality. Srikanthan, Preethi et al. American Journal of Cardiology , Volume 117 , Issue 8 , 1355 – 1360. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26949037
 Rantanen T, Masaki K, He Q, Ross GW, Willcox BJ, White L. Midlife muscle strength and human longevity up to age 100 years: a 44-year prospective study among a decedent cohort. Age. 2012;34(3):563-570. doi:10.1007/s11357-011-9256-y. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3337929/