ANN ARBOUR, Mich. — Want to feel younger? New research from the University of Michigan suggests you may want to invest in some weights and start a strength training class. According to a recent study, weak muscles could have as much influence on your long-term health as smoking cigarettes!
Not everyone ages at the same rate. Let’s take two adults, both 60 years old. While these two people may share the same chronological ageone can be much younger than one biological aging perspective. Aging is influenced by more than days crossed out on the calendar; Genetic, environmental and behavioral factors also play a major role. Poor lifestyle choices, such as avoiding exercise, unhealthy diets, and smoking, are thought to accelerate biological aging processes. Dealing with a serious illness can also cause the body to age at an accelerated rate.
In short, your body may be aging at a much faster rate than the date of birth on your driver’s license suggests. Now, for the first time ever, the UM team reports that muscle weakness marked by grip strength, an indicator of overall strength capacity, is linked to accelerated biological age. According to the results, the weaker your grip strength, the older your biological age.
“Strong Evidence for a Link Between Muscle Weakness and Accelerated Biological Age”
The Michigan Medicine team modeled the relationship between biological age and grip strength in 1,274 participants, all of whom were middle-aged or older adults. This was accomplished through three “age acceleration clocks” based on DNA methylation, a process that provides a molecular biomarker and estimator of the rate of aging. These clocks were originally designed based on previous studies looking at a variety of diseases, including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, physical disability, Alzheimer’s disease, inflammation, and early mortality. .
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The results that followed revealed that older men and women showed an association between weaker grip strength and a biological acceleration of age on DNA methylation clocks.
“We know that muscle strength is a predictor of longevity and that weakness is a powerful predictor of disease and mortality, but, for the first time, we have found strong evidence for a biological link between muscle weakness and actual acceleration of biological growth at age,” said the study’s lead author, Mark Peterson, an associate professor of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan, in a university statement. “This suggests that if you maintain muscle strength throughout life, you may be able to protect yourself against many common age-related diseases. We know that smoking, for example, can be a powerful predictor of disease and death, but we now know that muscle weakness could be the New smoking.”
One of the greatest strengths of this project has been the eight to ten years of observation carried out. The results show that lower grip strength indeed predicts faster biological aging measured up to a decade later, according to study co-author Jessica Faul, associate research professor at the UM Institute for SocialResearch.
Previous studies have suggested that low grip strength appears to be a good predictor of negative health events in general. One project reported that it is a better predictor of cardiovascular events, such as myocardial infarction, than systolic blood pressure, which is considered the clinical marker for detecting heart disorders. Professor Peterson and his team have even already found a strong association between muscle weakness and chronic disease/mortality in population samples.
This previous work, combined with these latest findings, suggests that there is serious potential for clinicians to embrace the use of grip strength as a means of screening for accelerated biological aging. This can help identify people who may be at high future risk for functional decline, chronic disease, and even early mortality.
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“Screening grip strength would allow interventions to be designed to delay or prevent the onset or progression of these age-related adverse events,” he adds. “We lobbied for clinicians to start using grip strength in their clinics and it was only in geriatrics that this type was incorporated. However, not many people use it, even though we have seen hundreds of publications showing that grip strength is a very good measure of health.
Could strength training prevent “inflammation?” »
Going forward, more research is needed to better understand the association between grip strength and accelerated age, such as how inflammatory conditions may contribute to weakness and mortality related to age. Previous studies tell us that chronic inflammation associated with aging, or “inflammaging”, is an important risk factor for mortality in the elderly. This same type of inflammation is also linked to poorer grip strength and may serve as a significant predictor on the pathway from poorer grip strength to disability/chronic disease multimorbidity.
Additionally, future studies should focus more on how lifestyle and behavioral factors such as exercise and diet can influence both grip strength and age acceleration, adds Professor Peterson.
“Healthy eating habits are very important, but I think regular exercise is the most critical thing anyone can do to maintain lifelong health,” he concludes. “We can show it with a biomarker like DNA methylation age, and we can also test it with a clinical characteristic like grip strength.”
The study is published in the Journal of Sarcopenia and Muscle Cachexia.
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