A new study has found that people with higher levels of muscle mass are less likely to die from heart disease.
The finding has important implications for women’s health.
The data showed that heart disease in women with comparatively high muscle mass was 42 per cent lower, even in those women who also had relatively high levels of body fat.
The study was undertaken at the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) and published in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
The researchers analyzed national health survey data collected over a 15-year period, evaluating 11,463 individuals aged 20 and older.
Among men, having high muscle mass and high body fat decreased their risk by 26% (compared to those with low muscle mass and low body fat), while having high muscle mass and low body fat decreased their risk by 60%.
The findings highlight the importance of recognising physiological differences between women and men when considering body composition and the risk of death from heart disease, particularly when it comes to how differences in body fat may modify that risk.
When humans store fat, men store more in the abdomen while women store more in the legs and hips.
Fat stored in the abdomen is a considerably higher risk factor in heart disease.
The American Heart Association estimates that 5 million men and 3 million women in the country have heart attacks annually.
Yet despite this wide gender gap and an overall decrease in heart attack-related deaths for both men and women over the past 50 years, an equal number of men and women still die from heart disease.
In addition, mortality among women over those five decades has fallen at a slower rate than for men, and the incidence of heart attacks appears to be increasing among women between the ages of 35 and 54.
Recent research has also found that women have significantly higher levels of risk factors associated with adverse heart disease than men.
The research also underscores the need to develop sex-appropriate guidelines with respect to exercise and nutrition as preventive strategies against the development of cardiovascular disease.
Even with the current emphasis by health experts on reducing fat to lower disease risk, it may be important for women to focus more on building muscle mass than losing weight, the study authors say.
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