Living longer depends on many variables. A person’s economic and social status may play a role in determining their overall lifespan, for example. Yet irrespective of a person’s situation, there appears to be a growing consensus that exercise increases life longevity. What may come as a surprise is the specific health benefits of doing exercise at pace.
According to a recent study presented at the EuroPrevent 2019, the key to prolonging life may lie in increasing muscle power.
“Rising from a chair in old age and kicking a ball depend more on muscle power than muscle strength, yet most weight bearing exercise focuses on the latter,” said study author Professor Claudio Gil Araújo, director of research and education, Exercise Medicine Clinic – CLINIMEX, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
He added: “Our study shows for the first time that people with more muscle power tend to live longer.”
As the study explains, power depends on the ability to generate force and velocity, and to coordinate movement.
In other words, it is the measure of the work performed per unit time (force times distance); more power is produced when the same amount of work is completed in a shorter period or when more work is performed during the same period.
Climbing stairs requires power – the faster a person climbs, the more power they need. Holding or pushing a heavy object (for example a car with a dead battery) needs strength.
We now show that power is strongly related to all-cause mortality
Professor Claudio Gil Araújo, study author
Professor Araújo said: “Power training is carried out by finding the best combination of speed and weight being lifted or moved. For strength training at the gym most people just think about the amount of weight being lifted and the number of repetitions without paying attention to the speed of execution. But for optimal power training results, you should go beyond typical strength training and add speed to your weight lifts.”
Muscle power gradually decreases after 40 years of age.
“We now show that power is strongly related to all-cause mortality. But the good news is that you only need to be above the median for your sex to have the best survival, with no further benefit in becoming even more powerful,” said Professor Araújo.
The study enrolled 3,878 non-athletes aged 41-85 years who underwent a maximal muscle power test using the upright row exercise between 2001 and 2016.
The average age of participants was 59 years, five per cent were over 80, and 68 per cent were men.
The highest value achieved after two or three attempts with increasing loads was considered the maximal muscle power and expressed relative to body weight (i.e. power per kg of body weight).
Values were divided into quartiles for survival analysis and analysed separately by sex.
During a median 6.5-year follow-up, 247 men (10 per cent) and 75 women (six per cent) died. Median power values were 2.5 watts/kg for men and 1.4 watts/kg for women.
Participants with a maximal muscle power above the median for their sex (i.e. in quartiles three and four) had the best survival. Those in quartiles two and one had, respectively, a 4-5 and 10-13 times higher risk of dying as compared to those above the median in maximal muscle power.
Professor Araújo noted that this is the first time the prognostic value of muscle power has been assessed.
Previous research has focused on muscle strength, primarily using the handgrip exercise.
The upright row exercise was chosen for the study because it is a common action in daily life for picking up groceries, grandchildren, and so on.
The researchers are currently examining the link between muscle power and specific causes of death including cardiovascular disease and cancer.
He added: “Doctors should consider measuring muscle power in their patients and advise more power training.”
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