Is Muscle Weakness the New Smoking? Study Links Grip Strength to Biological Age

A new study from the University of Michigan shows that grip strength is related to biological age. Biological age represents the actual aging process of a body, which accounts for higher risks of disease and early death in individuals with the same chronological age.

Key takeaways:
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    A new U-M study shows that grip strength may predict chronic disease or early death risk.
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    Grip strength can demonstrate existing muscle weakness and is associated with accelerated biological age.
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    Increasing grip strength with muscle strengthening may slow or stop disease or early death.
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    There are proven health benefits to regular muscle-strengthening exercises (any exercise that uses resistance, your body weight, or weightlifting).
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    Any exercise is better than none. Even five minutes a day will provide some benefits.

A person could be chronologically aged 65 but biologically 55 if in great health or 75 depending on how much damage is done by the disease, lifestyle choices (like smoking or diet), or other illnesses that can make you age faster.

Is weakness the new smoking?

In an article for Newswise, Mark Peterson, Ph.D., M.S., lead author of the University of Michigan (U-M) study, says, “This (study result) 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.”

Smoking tobacco is one of the worst things a person can do to their health. According to the CDC, “smoking harms nearly every organ of the body.” Over 16 million Americans are living with a disease caused by smoking. In addition, smoking predicts disease and mortality for the smoker.

When someone refers to a discovery as the new smoking, it means the discovery may predict disease and mortality (death). Dr. Peterson refers to the idea that weak grip strength may predict chronic disease or early death risk. Therefore, increasing grip strength may slow or stop disease or early death.

The authors point out that more research is needed into biological aging, and the results of this study need to be reproduced. However, the results are promising, and the future use of this information to increase health is exciting.

Dr. Peterson also states, “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.”

Biological age and grip strength

Biological age represents the actual aging process of a body, which accounts for higher risks of disease and early death in individuals with the same chronological age. The new U-M study shows that grip strength can demonstrate existing muscle weakness and is associated with accelerated biological age (aging faster than chronological age).

This study presents evidence for the first time proving that improving grip strength may decrease biological aging.

In the future, there may be screening tests that measure both grip strength and biological age. This screening could check the future risks of chronic disease and functional decline. Functional decline is “a reduction in the ability to perform self-care activities of daily living…because of a decrease in physical or cognitive functioning.” Based on the screening outcomes, you may be able to delay or prevent accelerated biological aging by increasing activity and improving strength.

Don’t wait. You can start improving your strength today.

How to improve your strength for better health

The U-M study adds to the body of evidence about muscle strength and health outcomes. A review of 16 studies published in February 2022 by the British Journal of Sports Medicine proves an association between muscle-strengthening activities and a 10-17% decreased risk of cancer, heart disease, and death.

The most risk reduction was obtained at 30–60 min/week of muscle-strengthening activities.

Any exercise that uses resistance, your body weight, or weightlifting is considered a muscle-strengthening exercise.

The CDC recommends these activities that increase muscle strength:

  • Lifting weights.
  • Working with resistance bands.
  • Doing exercises that use your body weight for resistance (like push-ups or sit-ups).
  • Heavy gardening (like digging and shoveling).
  • Some types of yoga.

Check with your healthcare provider if you are new to exercising for recommendations on what is safe for you.

According to statistics in the U.S. for adults over age 18, only 23.2% get the recommended physical activity for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activity.

Any exercise is better than none. Even five minutes a day will provide some benefits.

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