Keeping Aging Muscles Fit Is Tied to Better Heart Health Later

For men at least, entering middle age with plenty of muscle may lower the later risk of developing heart disease by more than 80 percent.

Comments: 160

  1. Ok, I think we can all agree you need to maintain muscle mass as you age, and this study supports that. Now how do you do it? It's back to the basics. Strength/resistance training to exercise and work the muscles, combined with a high protein diet to help them recover. How much protein? Up to a gram of protein per lb. of body weight, if you're doing lots of strength training. And get a body fat % checker so you can monitor your lean muscle mass and body fat percentage. Just checking your weight doesn't cut it. Get down to the nitty gritty if you're serious about what you're doing. My lean muscle mass is 132-134 lbs, and has been for 20 years. I turn 60 in a few days, with the goal of maintaining that muscle mass level through the next decade, and then reassess.

  2. @Sarasota Blues Perhaps a reader can define how "muscle mass" itself is measured and in what units for a more accurate parameter of demonstrating one's progress as their fitness program proceeds. I am 82 yrs young and have had a defined finess/lifestyle program for 64 years consisting of weights, other resistance training, and various warm- up stretchings and calisthenics as well as running (even marathons} and later physio program for inevitable running injuries. As well, maintenance of a nutrtious diet with well applied calorie values with exchanges. This in addition to having only the streetcar or walking as transportation earlier in life. And so no heart or blood pressure concerns to date. Point is that "fitness" is a product of many choices; essentially an integrated whole life style with continued effort in every category and some time off for good behaviour (?rich desserts occasionally). No panacea against aging; however, a workable program to have a more comfortable (not easy) but more insidious older active life.

  3. I've been doing body-building and competing in many sports since the age of 17. When I hit 45, I realized that my muscle mass was slowly decreasing, despite training every week. So last year I changed my diet, increased my protein and carb intake, cut down on all kinds of unhealthy fats, and I increased my training regime. With 3 intensive sessions of body building per week, a full basketball game plus training, jogging, hiking and skiing (in season), I have actually gained muscle mass - and I keep on gaining more, with zero belly fat. My girlfriend (who is 28 years old) thought I was 36/37 when we first met. I feel as fit as a 30-year old, and I intend to go on like this for as long as possible. For all those middle-aged men who let themselves go into a spiral of flabby laziness, my message is simple: don't! You can do it if you put the effort. Age is really just a number. And this latest study reaffirms what I had been thinking all along... fitness is actually good for you in the long run.

  4. @Andy All great advice. Good diet and a variety of strenuous exercise pay dividends. I may check into that 28-year-old girfriend thing but guessing that my wife of 30 years will put a nix on that part of the equation.

  5. @Andy Your observations are exactly in line with what the folks at Barbell Medicine (a group run by a couple doctors who are power lifters) would say. Namely, people require more protein as they get older because it's used less efficiently by aging bodies, and that exercise/physical therapy is under-dosed for the aging. Judging from the 40-year pictorial collection of Clarence Bass (a long-time weight lifter) I'd guess that one can maintain muscle mass until at least 80 years old with the proper workout and nutrition.

  6. @Andy Does having a girlfriend almost 20 years younger than you contribute to your physical fitness and wellbeing? If so, I will consider emulating this element of your healthy lifestyle.

  7. Thanks Ms. Reynolds for featuring another study that includes women! And interestingly, their results were NOT the same as the men’s. In a disproportionate number of studies reported in the Times, only men are looked at. Please continue to feature research with women in the Times. If you make a point of providing equal coverage of men’s and women’s research, it could show that research about women is important to the public and lead to more interest and funding for women’s health studies. Then, more high quality women’s health studies will come out and it will be easier to find acceptable ones to share here. Your decisions about what to cover here have a lot of power!

  8. So, if there’s notable research that focuses solely on men but the Times’ coverage has been recently weighted toward male-oriented studies, it should not publish that research?

  9. @BCBC Point taken, but once in while, the NYT can do a study on men and cardiovascular disease without foot stomping gender equality posts? Breast cancer gets the most research money. cardiovascular disease, is the biggest killer of men. Men die far earlier than women. (Of cardiovascular disease.) The article was a good one, very informative, and likely applicable to all humans.

  10. @BCBC - It seems that some just don't get it, that too often studies are done on men, then inappropriately applied to women. @Prant seems to think you are making a "foot stomping gender equality" statement. Their comment that men die of heart disease more often than women is used to justify excluding women, leading to worse outcomes since women's responses, say to heart attack, are many time different. What you say is perfectly legitimate, that women have been historically not been included in studies, and that results applied to them ultimately harm them, and limit the benefits of the research.

  11. One comment, one gripe, comment first: Generally, muscle mass is to some degree correlated with well-being and health, so this finding is not so new, but also, not indicative that activity is the cause. The human body is a system and the result of the system is muscularity, dependent on hormones and one's natural dispositions. However cliched, reductions in testosterone (or much more complicated variations) might affect muscle mass, heart health, fat mass, emotional well-being, etc. My gripe is the usual one: The study needs a well-controlled, with comparative treatments and a control group, to differentiate the effects of preserving muscle mass. This study, and this presentation, does nothing except make the same mistake many do, assume correlation of muscle mass with well-being is causative. The author correctly hedges her conclusion, writing that keeping muscle "is probably key to protecting middle-aged hearts", and one can't go wrong advocating fitness, but it still leaves the wrong impression. I'm not a medical professional, but my undergrad focused on study design, I was certified as an ACE-certified as a personal trainer, and have been working out for over 30 years. I have read many many studies and analyses of fitness and health outcomes. Most popular analysis, and many if not most published ones, suffer from the same problem, bad study design.

  12. @James Igoe I don't see how you realistically do a control group study when you are talking about basic lifestyle behaviors over decades, and subsequent outcomes over decades. They do seem to have thoroughly considered and adjusted for such issues based on lifestyle interviews.

  13. @Phil - While it might be impossible to control for all variables, there was no attempt to do that, and they only compensated for some variables. How extensive that statistical compensation was is debatable. Regardless, studies can be designed to tease out such factors, much better than simple correlation studies.

  14. @James Igoe The study was apparently designed as a correlation study. It did what it was supposed to do, didn't it? If you want a more detailed, nuanced study, design and implement one.

  15. Upon reading the linked paper itself, it should be noted that the authors' conclusions were quite conservative. The paper's penultimate paragraph raises all sorts of methodological and statistical concerns. Hence in most ways we are left where we started: continuous exercise throughout life makes sense. Not everyone has to train for competition. The exact amounts of the best exercises as we age remain an open question and might vary depending on any number of factors (genetics, geography, diet, timing and intesity of lifelong exercise patterns, economic circumstances, etc). I doubt there is any way to run large-scale population studies in a controlled fashion. At the very least, the costs would be prohibitive.

  16. The premise of this article is solid, but I’m curious if they factored in what middle-aged men in Greece have been through over the last decade? The economy was collapsing, political upheaval, social programs threatened, savings dissolved, and extreme austerity? I assume Greek culture places a disproportionate responsibility on the middle-aged man to be the bread-winner. If anything this study amplifies the benefit of entering a season of crisis in good physical condition. Those who did not were more susceptible to the physiological effects of stress.

  17. @John Sneed The women went through that too.

  18. That's a startling high percentage of men getting heart disease before age 60. And, since the 27% included women, almost none of which got heart disease, the range for men must've been much higher, maybe around 40%! I thought the Greeks were supposed to be so healthy, what with the Mediterranean diet and all. I guess not. And, if musculature staves off illness, yet the percentage was so high, I surmise middle aged Greek men are not that muscular- at least not any more than anyone else. As far as the premise of the study, I really don't have an opinion.

  19. @Ron A The men and women of Greece are heavy smokers compared to much of the world's population. There are numerous intersecting variables at play.

  20. @Ron A Greek men are not healthier. They have a smoking rate of 51.2%. Men are fatter than the women too, statistically wise. I lived in Greece for two years, from 1980-1982, out near Marathon and, anecdotal only, the Greek men were not a picture of health.

  21. I have been very active male and feel that I have kept in shape all my life. I am now 68. I believe in exercise! But I was recently thinking of my family tree especially the female members. My Mother and Grandmother were both smokers ( 50 years each), never exercise, they both lived to be 94. My Great Grandmother never even dreamed to exercise and lived to be 97. My Mom's sister never exercised also, died at 98. My Dad's sister was the only person in the family who really did a little exercise and recently died at 100. The medical break through for longevity and health I never got in my family was not being born female.

  22. @scott t Nobody says that genetics are not important.

  23. @ScottT Hmmm...all women. How’d the men fair?

  24. @Barbara Sheridan Dad lived to be 85 but he smoked for 30 years which much of the WWII generation did.

  25. As we all know (and our POTUS proves), the two fundamentals of heath are (50-50) lifestyle and blind luck. The less one has of the second, the more required of the first, and conversely. Some of us are genetically endowed with mesomorphic muscle mass and V-shaped bodies, others endo/ecto not so much. On lifestyling for the challenged, I would wonder what this data implies for increasingly trendy vege/vegan approach to nutrition. In my declining years, iso-whey protein spiked shakes and oatmeal porridge have become staples along with eggs, yogurt and meat targeting around 60 grams a day of biovailable protein. I couldn't be bothered to try to do it all veg.

  26. @J111111 You might be interested in recent research showing that "elderly/sedentary" individuals did best with 1.4 gm/kg of body weight. A value of 0.8 gm/kg body weight is the minimum, it is not the "optimal" protein intake. Good luck.

  27. @Ben Will look into it, but have to say protein supplements tend to plug the pipes. The guy who Ss harder ... We do need lots of vegetables for that.

  28. Very useful info for Athenians. But how is this applicable to Spartans, Corinthians, and Thebeians?

  29. I laugh when I read these “findings”. As Maria Muldar sang, “It’s not the meat, it’s the motion”. The daily athletic activity of the heart muscle is what helps people avoid cardiovascular problems. Men and women; so get up every day and move.....Your brain, heart, body, family and co-workers will all benefit!!!

  30. But your diet is more important than how active you are.

  31. I'm 80 and can, with stress, jog half a mile and consistently do 35 to 40 push ups, as well as chop a couple of cords of wood each year and keep a large vegetable garden. Muscle mass is a by product of just keeping on the move, no junk food, 2/3 to a bottle of wine with an omnivore's diet. It probably helps to have an intellectually stimulating job. Retire, take it easy, and die slowly, younger.

  32. @jim in virginia -----"2/3 to a bottle of wine with an omnivore's diet." Is that daily???????

  33. FDNY Firefighter Edward Whalen (Engine 36) said long ago that, "Old age is a privilege denied to many". It was true then and it's true today.

  34. The decline of muscle mass is the metabolical, structural, and functional hallmark of frailty in old age. We now know that resistance treatments to the essential muscles of upright posture can reverse frailty and restore an active life even at older ages. Please stop illustrating resistance training with photos of older folks holding little pink dumbbells. That's not resistance training

  35. What? “ Women’s muscle mass was not associated with later risks for heart disease, in large part because so few of the women had developed heart disease.” If so few women develop heart disease then why is it the number one cause of women’s death?

  36. @SW The article never stated that "so few women develop heart disease". It said that women tend to develop heart disease on average 10 years later than men.

  37. @NCJ "Women’s muscle mass was not associated with later risks for heart disease, in large part because so few of the women had developed heart disease."

  38. When it comes to cardiovascular disease (CVD) and the heart attacks (and strokes and Alzheimer's and erectile dysfunction) that follow it, the cause is obscenely obvious: It's the food, it's the food, it's the food. If you have a lousy diet--the Standard American Diet, which most of your lazy, ill-informed, incurious fellow Americans gorge on every day of their lives--you will get CVD and NO amount of exercise on your part is going to change that outcome one little bit. No matter how much you might wish it weren't so, you cannot outrun a bad diet. (Does the name Jim Fixx ring a bell with you?) You can't "out-exercise" a bad diet either. Whether you get heart disease--or not--won't have a damned thing to do with how many miles you run or push ups or sets ups you can do at whatever age. In short: You get healthy in the kitchen, you get fit in the gym. Two different things, yes? What matters is what's on the end of your fork.

  39. @Greg Gerner: Yes. My MD told me that I could burn 200, 300 if I pushed it, calories/hour of exercise. But, he said, you could easily gain more calories than that in 30 seconds in the kitchen. So I’m trying to go lo-carb, but it’s not easy.

  40. @Anonymous, Why low carb? Eating whole plant foods is one of the healthiest ways to eat, if not the healthiest. Whole means avoiding processed foods —that alone makes a big difference. And plant foods means avoiding animal products. Plant foods are high in carbohydrates, but they are complex, as opposed to the refined carbohydrates of processed foods, found in sugars and white flours, for example. Whole plant foods include lots of veggies and fruits, and legumes (beans, chickpeas, lentils, split peas) and WHOLE grains (ie, not refined grains), and in moderation nuts and seeds. The food is great, but most likely you’ll have to cook it yourself. And cooking counts as moderate exercise! And exercise is important, but what you eat is probably more important.

  41. @Greg Gerner I agree that the standard American diet is a disaster, but you can't blame it for Jim Fixx's early death. Fixx had a terrible family history of heart disease. His father died of a heart attack at 43, and he had had another attack at an even earlier age. Fixx died at 52, but his heart attack was not caused by bad diet. It was probably inevitable, given his genetics.

  42. Researchers need better information too. Between genders, when controlling for height/stature, there is no difference in age of heart disease onset or longevity. Shorter men live as long as same height women and have the same profile for heart disease. Quite an oversight not to correlate with height.

  43. I'm beginning to understand why people say, "enough!" A Nobel prize winner in medicine who is now about 80 had an article in a medical publication I read in April 2019 which opined that our bodies mostly peak at roughly age 25 and by age 75 they are in decline. He didn't claim to be an oracle and he agreed there were exceptions. But his point was that his friends were driving themselves crazy trying to extend their lives to the max by obsessing over every single thing they read or heard and by spending huge amounts of time enriching the medical/hospital industry. Each to his own, of course. I actually have known a couple of 90 year old men and one 100 year old man who were getting by fairly well despite the pain until they inevitably died recently. So it makes me wonder if the view is worth the climb?

  44. @R. Anderson As a 66-year-old person more recently converted to healthier living (thank you, retirement from night shifts!) I'd say it has nothing to do with longevity and everything to do with vigor and well being in the present, although longevity is a likely side effect.

  45. In my seventh decade now, I have benefited from daily exercise and a no meat no fish diet. I eat a lot of steamed vegetables and the usual rice, beans, nuts, seeds. My diet includes eggs and various cheeses. I exercise for strength, it has been beyond my comfort zone to maximize muscle mass. I believe these practices have improved the performance of my heart as well as my overall health. It is especially pleasant to jog weighing about eight pounds less than I did a year ago. It is disheartening to see so many people apparently living in a kind of bubble of habituated bad food choices and reliance of medication; hard to think they are doing the best they can. And yet they might be.

  46. @William: You’re still jogging? Congrats. My back prohibited that decades ago. A shame. I used to run a 10 K in about 25 minutes. Not great, I know, but respectable. Couldn’t do that now for a million bucks, though I would give it a try.

  47. @Anonymous You've outrun me. Sorry about the back. I've been inspired by that armless girl who paints so well with her feet. I'm also keeping my typing fingers toned.

  48. @William As a man in his 70s, was your weight loss intentional? Eight pounds is quite a lot of weight to lose. Did you lose lean body mass or fat?

  49. Reporting on these kinds of associational studied is just ridiculous, since even the people who run the studies can’t say what they mean beyond the association. In this case, of course those with more muscle fare better with cardiovascular disease because what do people with more muscle do? They work out! And that’s good for your heart which is also a muscle. Did we not all already know this? So maybe that’s the association. Oh, and let’s not forget, those with health problems or painful joint conditions etc are less likely to move around or work out. Might their underlying conditions lead to decreased heart health. Maybe increased muscle mass leads to better heart health, but this study sure doesn’t prove maybe we should all keep active, get exercise every day—which is proven to improve health overall—and not all feel like we need to hit the nautilus machines if we want to avoid early death.

  50. So let me get this straight. If you keep to a healthy diet and exercise regularly, you will improve your chances of staying healthier longer. Who would have thought it?

  51. @Marty Duh? No kidding! Lol.

  52. @Marty There must be some easier way.

  53. Who would have thought that, in this day and age where we are the busiest, our muscles are suffering from lack of action. I recall days of school in the 50's and 60's, where we really exercise by walking and bicycling just to get there, let alone exercising by participating in soccer (as an example). Nowadays we seem captive of a delicious yet addictive sport based on the Internet, our indispensable iPhone and the ever demanding Social Media, leaving nary a whimper of respite to keep our muscles in shape. To our loss...and early exit.

  54. @manfred marcus A lot of people still walk and bike to get around. Much of this depends on where you live. I live in a fairly walkable neighbourhood where the kids get to school on foot or by bike, skateboard and scooter. The parents accompany the younger ones so that’s at least four times a day that they get out of the house. The parking lots at the market and grocery store are normally half empty because people walk to pick up their groceries. Most people live in ´plexes (duplexes, triplexes, all the way up to sixplexes) with very small yards so the dogs need walking. It’s fantastic to see the parents of babies out for fresh air even in below -0 Celcius weather.

  55. Correlation not causation. Having more muscle correlates with longevity. Great, makes sense because you would imagine a person with more muscle has more "health" than a person with less muscle - whatever the actual "cause" may be. As for the statistics, I wish they would make them more meaningful. 80% less chance isn't really helpful since I don't know what endpoints that is in reference to. Does the average person have a 10/100 chance of a heart attack by age 60 and a "muscle-bound" person has a 2/100 chance? Or is it 10/10,000 vs. 2/10,000 ? What is the actual meaning of these statistics?

  56. @Chris There's a link to the paper, Greg. If you want to know more, no one is stopping you from clicking on it. Indeed, you could have used the time that it took you to vent in this comment section to actually find out what the statistics meant.

  57. The study shows more evidence of what we already know: that physical fitness is good. Also, it may provide additional MOTIVATION to become or stay fit. I find motivation to be a challenge, unless I’m staying at a ski-in/out alpine ski lodge. Nevertheless, I do aerobics and weights whenever I can. This article, I hope, will increase the instances of “whenever I can.”

  58. "Well-muscled people also tend to be more active than others, he says, which helps to protect the heart." That's the penultimate graf when it should have been the second or third. If anything here is causative, it is that the actions one must take to gain and keep muscle mass leads to better heart health, not just having the mass. But this author never met a correlation she didn't love to write about.

  59. In addition to weights, a daily one-mile walk swinging a ten-pound kettlebell in each hand keeps me fit, and able to walk the ten blocks to my favorite pizzeria. Oh, and I scrupulously avoid tahini sprouts ad quinoa.

  60. The correlation between muscle mass at T1 with heart disease at T2 is meaningless. This is a notoriously weak study design and confounders and spurious results inevitably flourish. The most sensible interpretation is: people who are really healthy and active earlier in life are more likely to be really healthy and active later in life. I think we all knew that. There's some, albeit much less spectacular (but fortunately better grounded), evidence that being physically active in mid life will help prevent debility in later life, and staying active once old will improve health prospects and life expectancy. Neither of these findings is surprising apart from being surprisingly obvious. Equally obvious is people encountering mental and physical health challenges eat more poorly, sleep more poorly, and exercise less than people who do not encounter such challenges. Causality and temporal order often runs from health challenges to diet, exercise and sleep (with the latter three variables then, in turn, further affecting health) rather than the other way around. Neither exercise nor diet is a health panacea.

  61. As a young whipper snapper {50 years ago} i was taught at my local Power Lifting Gym "Strong is Long" The stronger we are the Longer we Live. True then, True now, True forever ! Get Lifting!

  62. I would think that people who invest the time and effort into maintaining their muscle mass make other choices that minimize the risk of developing heart disease. Heredity probably is more of a factor though. At 65, maintaining my muscle mass and flexibility is more significant for me as a means of prolonging my ability to live independently than any reduction in heart disease. Your heart may be perfect but if you fall and brake a hip, you may well shorten your life and definitely increase your chances of ending up in a managed care living situation significantly.

  63. No question muscle mass is beneficial to help with joint stability and avoid falls etc. Even though stated accurately that there is no causation, and it's correlation and that too for men, headlines (which is what many people concentrate on) can be misleading. There is also increasing evidence that stress has a significant but not yet quantitatively measurable effect on heart health (read book by Dr. Sandeep Jauhar). Thus, overall heart health is affected mostly through how young your arteries are (cardio workouts), diet (low sodium etc.) and lowering stress. Not sure if it makes a lot of sense to see why having more muscle would lead to better cardio function (other than secondary effects that are mentioned).

  64. @Deepfitness Exercise helps reduce stress.

  65. @Deepfitness Strength may be more important than muscle hypertrophy. Studies with nursing home residents show that some who appear frail are strong and live to ripe ages.

  66. Correlation is not causation. Heart health may affect exercise habits and thus muscle mass, and vice versa. Both may reflect underlying common causes. There is little to be learned from such a study.

  67. I agree strongly with Austin. Even though the article discloses that the relationship between muscle mass and heart health is associative rather than causative, this description of the study will be misleading to the average non-scientist. Men with a lot of muscle in their 40's are likely to have been quite physically active all their lives. Given what we know (on a lot more evidence) about the relationship between physical activity and heart health, isn't it much more likely that this is the key factor? You'd need a study of men with different body types (more muscled, leaner, etc.) and control for physical activity to determine whether more muscle alone has any effect at all on heart health.

  68. 63 years old,can do 12 pull-ups! Working to get to 20 pull-ups, the Marine Corps perfect PFT score number in the early 80’s Former Jarhead.

  69. @P K Cool story, bro. Please tell it again.

  70. @P K You are doing great! Age Groups Max Reps Min Reps 51+ 18 3

  71. I was in peak condition and really buff and fast with great stamina at 47. That is when I had a heart attack! Check the delirious science we are slammed in the face with, everyday!

  72. @John OBrienj Coronary artery disease and hence the risk of a heart attack rests mostly on your genetics, ie family history. Now you can increase that risk by smoking, eating unhealthy or reduce it by exercising, eating well, taking medications to control blood pressure and cholesterol. Nothing so far in the medical science eliminates the risk of a heart attack.

  73. @John OBrienj John; These types of studies describe populations, and individuals should not be surprised when they are outliers. I am not certain if your stamina and buffness was related to exercise (and other things that are mostly within your control, like not smoking, maintaining good lipid levels, glucose control, avoiding obesity and controlling your blood pressure) but regardless of past habits, I am confident you will live longer if you do all these things, even if they do not keep you alive until the next century. Genetics are indeed important, but there are other risks that you have the power to reduce.

  74. @John OBrienj I am 70 years old and in 2018 lost 30 kilograms (66 pounds) through diet and exercise. In Oct 2019, I had a heart checkup and was told by my GP that everything was OK. In Nov 2019, I had a heat attack. I have maintained muscle mass since I was in my 20's through resistance training. According to my cardiologist, the critical factors are age and genetics. My father died at age 56 of heart failure.

  75. Makes sense and the data is strong,a motivating study.Not surprisingly as with other health articles half the comments you need a whip and a chair to deal with.

  76. Why so many self congratulatory letters? Do these people need to show off? Not helpful to others nor thoughtful or knowledgeable addition to article

  77. I was thinking the same thing.

  78. @rationality The stories of different people's "successes" inspire me and provide examples of the payoff of discipline. Knowing others do it with some measure of success is useful. We also do not have a lot of positive models of life after 80; these are great portraits.

  79. Some of us enjoy knowing there are people out there succeeding in their efforts. Helps to keep us motivated.

  80. Pardon me if this appears in previous posts: the heart is a muscle. You can't stress so much as a small foot muscle without stressing your heart just a bit. By definition, a workout will also work out the most important muscle. If ever there was a win-win, this is it.

  81. The article does not define muscle mass or how it was measured. Even obese people have bigger muscles, meaning it’s more fat that puts people at risk of heart disease, but more importantly insulin resistance and eventual diabetes. The study as reported describes people that had more muscle than others, not that they actually had developed bigger muscles. Higher muscle proportion could simply mean that the benefit results from being lean, not having more muscle mass. Maybe they just walked more and maintained their fitness, as opposed to the sedentary ones who lost muscle.

  82. I've been under the impression that it's not easy to obtain accurate readings on muscle mass without very specific testing. So I have to wonder exactly how the researchers managed -- ex post facto -- to extract data on muscle mass from "information from these participants’ original medical tests." Which information, and which methods? It would be nice if the article explained this point, since the accuracy of the study results hinges on the accuracy of the researchers' calculations.

  83. DEXA scanning is the very accurate "gold standard" these days, and is not expensive or inaccessible. Water immersion weighing, and even skin fold calipers are also quite accurate measures of body composition.

  84. @Bucky A mirror is a good indication. Not scientific, but brutally accurate.

  85. Having the self-discipline to maintain muscle mass as one ages is probably the marker that is being captured here. Self-discipline spills over into healthy eating, active mental engagement with the world, healthy personal habits and an investment in aerobic fitness. Most folks with a modicum of intelligence know the 'recipe' but few have the self-discipline to bake the cake.

  86. @SteveRR Not always. I didn’t gain weight as I got older mostly due to my genes. I exercise because I enjoy it. I have bad eating habits because I don’t like to cook. I’d bet that I’d score pretty low on the self discipline scale, if there is such a thing.

  87. The article doesn’t say how much longer they live than others. It just says that healthy men are able to exercise more.

  88. @Rich Murphy I suspect that a life of exercise is prolonging my life post 60, but I know that it is definitely prolonging my healthy life -- my siblings all have high blood pressure etc, but not me. No meds yet, feel great.

  89. I find this partial statement deeply disturbing, again :"The study finds that, for men at least..." Why are these very important studies done only on men? Again? As an older woman and one who is extremely fit and active, and oh yes, disabled, I want all the statistics and studies to reflect women as well. For far too long, women have been left out of these very valuable studies and as a result, our healthcare lags behind men's. I have a feeling that unless women are in charge of these studies, we'll be sidelined continually. So, women doctors and scientists, step up to the plate.

  90. @Pamela L. Maybe these studies can be 're-phrased' substituting the word person or human for 'man.' I don't believe these types of studies are gender-specific and for those readers who are really offended by pronouns, I think this a good way to defuse the whole gender war thing. While it's true that men and women have very different hormonal profiles, what works for muscle mass in a male human will most definitely apply to a female human.

  91. @Pamela L. You might want to read again. The ATTICA study that was a primary source of data looked at women as well as men. A conclusion was that larger muscle mass was associated with lower risk for men. Apparently muscle mass was less predictive of reduced risk for women in part due to lower incidence. A related observation was that women tend to get heart disease 10 years later than men. Given all of this the opportunity to evaluate women using ATTICA data might arise 10 years from now.

  92. @Bo Baconator Actually, most medical research has specifically been done on men throughout history and not women. It's not a pronoun issue.

  93. I'm 69,.In my 40's I rode a bike 20 miles a day at least 100 miles a week. My cardio health was good and I had good leg muscles. My quads and calf muscles were strong and looked good. My blood pressure is normal and I don't take any meds Older men cannot build muscle mass because they produce less testosterone.

  94. Not true. Multiple studies show resistance training for both elderly men and women significantly increases strength and lean muscle mass for this age group. Testosterone levels are actually only one part of the anabolic process -- many other hormones and nutritional factors are involved in the complete process. So please, check the scientific research, and don't spread misinformation.

  95. @Tom I don't care so much about external indicators. I exercise because having toned, active muscles helps me move and feel capable. It prolongs one's healthy life whether or not it prolongs one's length of life. At 62, I just backpacked in the high Andes in Peru, no problem. That in itself felt good. I often passed younger people. My guide, about 50, made me feel good huffing and puffing falling behind me ... until there was an emergency he helped out with where he took off running straight up a mountain at 13000 feet revealing himself to be an Incan Olympian.

  96. Nice, makes sense, but omits one big issue: genetics. Some people live to a good ripe old age, into their 90s, and they eat steak and potatoes and smoke the whole time. I come from a line of people like that, but for me, my liver makes copious amounts of cholesterol, barely controllable with statins. I played ice hockey until I was 57 (while living in New England). I had to give it up because the ice time for old guys was just too late and I still needed to get up in the morning to go to work. In my mid-60s I had severe angina, a 5-tuple bypass, and discovered my huge cholesterol load. At the time I was eating mostly chicken and vegetables and rice, trying to do a Mediterranean type diet. Now I am on an Ornish type diet, my exercise is chiefly walking (I probably average 5-6 thousand steps per day), the cholesterol is sort of under control and my blood pressure has gone way down. Bottom line, know your genetic condition, then sort out what you might want or need to do, depending on how long you want to live. These associative studies aren't worth the money spent on them.

  97. I’m a 45 year old male. I look like I’m in my mid-thirties. I’m not sure how much longer I’ll keep but my secret is lifting weights vigorously 5-6 times a week. It keeps my body and mind fit and keeps me looking young. I refuse to be a hobbling slow old man.

  98. @N More testimony to the post hoc ergo propter hoc strong connection between hubris and health. I’m 71 and have run over 35 marathons. The last one was in 2010, although I had sworn to my younger self that I’d still be doing distance running all the way to the end. I was considering refusing to die, but it appears I am indeed headed that way, my strong will to live forever notwithstanding.

  99. Yes. I imagine having expiration dates written in invisible ink ( and I don't want to know mine). You slowly - or suddenly if you have a major health issue - become aware that time is running out for everyone, yourself included. In my case, I thought I would be skiing all out until my 90th birthday. @ 73 the knees object.

  100. @Dale Irwin Even what you want to do in life changes. I loved doing startups and thought I'd do them forever. Post 60 -- eh, let the younger kids be the CEO, happy to spend a day a week with them, but not much more. I used to love running, but cut it down to 3 days a week to avoid injuries and instead bike more. Similarly soccer and basketball -- I gave them up because my injury rate went up and getting a joint injury past 60 is ... no fun! I've added weight lifting because it helps me move. Death is inevitable and maybe exercise, maintaining friendships and intellectual interest will prolong your life, maybe. But, they will definitely prolong your healthy, enjoyable life.

  101. Sarcopenia is not severe muscle loss, it is any muscle loss and starts at around age 25. "Especially for men " Really? are you kidding me with this bias. Women benefit from maintaining optimal muscle mass exactly as much as men do. The single and only way to maintain optimal levels of muscle to do resistance training of a suitable high intensity, you can walk swim row stretch bike snap your fingers as much as you want, none of it will maintain muscle strength training. and none of this is new, the link between muscle, hormones and the role telomeres play in cellular health is well documented.

  102. @IrishChic Although primarily a cardio workout, rowing, if done properly and for long enough, can build muscle too. When I had to decide what machine to buy for cardio workouts at home on the days I didn’t get to the gym, a rowing machine was the obvious choice. It was hard to get started and there are still days when I look at the monitor and think “only one more minute to go”, but it was definitely worth it. At first I thought I would only use it in winter when the sidewalks were too icy and uneven to get out and walk, but I found myself using it all year round.

  103. The heart is a muscular organ.

  104. @RP While it's true that the heart is comprised mainly of muscle tissue, it is cardiac muscle, a unique type found only in that organ. That said, it's certainly the most important of the three types of muscle tissue.

  105. (This is her husband). I think an issue here is that this writer needs to move on. She has to write this column once a week and, it seems clear, scours medical publications for the sorts of studies, unfortunately usually weak (like this one), that she can force a story out of. I think 500 words a week on fitness that is interesting and engaging is certainly possible, but this writer has clearly burned out or has a very poor editor sitting on her head. "In 1990, eleven Finnish cross-country skiers agreed to ... etc."

  106. @zelda I agree. I think she's on a writer's treadmill going very slowly.

  107. For men at least!!?? Yet another example in decades of health research of the discriminating against women! People: time, or well beyond time!, to give women equal representation even in this research and policy domain!!

  108. The study mentions why the results applied to the men in the study, but not the women. Women generally develop cardiovascular disease about ten years later than men (so not enough women had developed disease for a statistical link to be made). Clearly, another conspiracy of the patriarchy.

  109. @Kathy - While I don't entirely disagree with your premise, you may want to go back over the article. It doesn't apply here. This is results not applying to women - not that they were just ignored.

  110. @Kathy actually Kathy, they tested both men & women, but the results indicated that men benefitted from a greater muscle mass than women regarding future heart attacks.. This finding is not discrimination, but rather fact. Read it again.

  111. Muscles burn calories, so you can eat more!

  112. Aren’t we really saying that endomorphs (abundant adipose tissue) have a higher risk if CVD than mesomorphs and ectomorphs? No one is purely one body type, hence the “skinny but fat” endo-ectomorph is also at higher risk for CVD.

  113. Considering the importance of this, why is it that whenever I have had a routine physical, this is not something any doctor looks at or comments on?

  114. @Igor You get routine physicals? It's been years since anyone suggested that for me. What kind of healthcare system do they have in Trnasylvania? Here in the states it's "we don't test because we might find something."

  115. @Igor Because the study just was published recently...

  116. @igor Huh? I’m bombarded by my physician to takes tests. Tests make medical groups money, and if they find something and can recommend a drug for it, they can make big pharma money. See Merck,Fosamax and “Osteopenia” for a tale of making up a disease to sell a drug. I’m done with tests, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Exercise, is crucial to wellness, not more tests.

  117. I’m 78 and a few years ago my Grandson looked at me seriously and said, "Bobby, you are Very, Very, Very old." Somewhat shocked, I asked, "Why do you say that Gerry?" He responded, "Because you have grey hair and a great moustache and then you will die." Well, that got my attention! I wasn't going to dye my hair but thought about what I could do to change his mind. I hadn't done Pull-ups in years but gave it a try and did two. When I showed him he said, "Cool!" With that, I was on my way. I now do a good deal more reps, at times to the positive comments of strangers and it's all recorded on a small video camera that I'll give him in a year or two. It will be my Testament to him that you can't stop Father Time but you don't have to lie down and just give up.

  118. @Bob Abate You are creating a priceless, timeless, inspiring legacy for your grandson to follow! Cool!

  119. @Bob Abate Oh come on, dye your hair and freak him out!

  120. So all these years we were told that only cardio is good for heart and now, we know more. God bless us all.

  121. Younger Next Year is a fantastic book we should all take as a primer for how to age with our bodies. I’ve recommended it for years as a great layman’s plus expert’s explanation of why we need to keep exercising. Gym style weights aren’t required, but are helpful.

  122. @Sally B- RD - Sadly, co-author Henry S. Lodge, died at age 58 of prostate cancer :-(

  123. Two years ago during my first Medicare physical my doctor told me the best thing that I could control that would prolong my life was regular exercise. I alternate between cardio and weights with stretching after. I started slow and so far have avoided injury. Always glad to see supportive studies like this.

  124. I'm 89 and have worked with weights since age 15. The last forty years I've done high reps, 40 curls and 25 bench presses. I have kept my waist at 36, but the weights I lift go down every few years. Same for pushups. It's been 20 years since I could do a pullup. I've lost 15 pounds the last 15 years. All muscle. I feel great and look great. Father Time wins in the end, but there's lot you can do to slow the process, including weights several times a week.

  125. @OldTrojan, Thanks for motivating,sounds like your the favorite right now against time.Don’t look at the Odometer,Keep Rolling. Thank You, J Fitz

  126. @OldTrojan Yeah, I always have done walking, running and biking, but after age 60, I found doing moderate lifting was necessary to feel robust. Pull up trick is to use elastic bands to help you -- it's a good exercise but it does decline with age, so help it out as needed. Also, stretching becomes necessary as you age since older muscles are tighter -- I never stretched before I was 50 and never had a problem. Now I have to stretch or there will be a problem.

  127. If you are able,have the means;then exercise. Maintaining range of motion is important as well as strength training.

  128. So true. I see this all the time. Men of middle age muscle and gain considerable abdominal fat. The modern sedentary life is train wreck, especially for men.

  129. So if I was to casually peruse this article and then sum its conclusion it seems the more muscle at a younger age means more heart health at a later age? Really? This is what the study "proves (or indicates)?" It seems to me more muscle does not translate directly into better heart health. Rather, more muscle is one of the prime indicators that exercise and general day to day USE is part of the lifestyle of the person being studied. I don't think I should have to state how beneficial exercise and continual day to day use of your body would be to the heart as well as to overall health? So for me to sum my conclusion succinctly; use it or lose it. John~ American Net'Zen

  130. @John Swing and a miss. The relationship between muscle mass and heart disease held controlling for physical activity. Probably better to read carefully rather than casually peruse before you make strong statements concerning its conclusions. "And people’s muscle mass at the study’s start was linked to their chances of heart disease now. Those people with the most muscle then were the least likely to have heart disease now. That association remained significant when the scientists controlled for people’s diet, education and physical activity, but not when they looked at gender."

  131. @John I agree with John. Did the study control for co-morbidity? Meaning other chronic illnesses the participants already had? In adults with diabetes, the most common causes of death are heart disease and stroke. Not to mention, excess body mass creates a situation where muscles atrophy and the subject is less inclined to lift or pull. So overweight will be less capable, and less willing to lift weights.

  132. @John Studies have demonstrated that strength may be more important that muscle hypertrophy. In fact, hand strength as measured by a hand dynamometer, correlates with lower levels of mortality and morbidity, as does walking speed.

  133. One risk of dieting is loss of muscle tissue..... I've been exercising about 10 hours a week for the last couple of years. I eat protein at every meal. I'm an older woman. I can really tell that my legs are more muscular and that I am building a girdle of muscles around my tummy so I think that my heart is probably also more muscular, whatever that means. I had some dental work done and that healed up quickly with no infection maybe because my circulation is good. My opthamologist said the tissue around my eyes looks great. My hands are great-- no carpal tunnel. I sleep about 7.5 hours per night and wake with no alarm. When I go to bed, I fall asleep right away. I don't have high blood pressure. The exercise really helps me with my stress, attitude, and self image.

  134. @Kay Sieverding Yes, dieting alone, and the number of pounds lost, does not tell the whole story. A DEXA scan ( can measure how muscle vs. fat. Unless one exercises muscles through strength training, much of a diet-only weight loss is muscle. Although you can do all the right things, the genetics you inherit play a significant role in your health and longevity. I'm an older man and the main benefit I get from healthy habits is that I feel good almost every day. Longevity is a bonus.

  135. For years, I was a gym rat and watched my diet. I looked amazing. Then, when I moved, I got lazy, put on weight around my middle, lost my tone. Last summer, I knew I had to do something about it. I went to the gym and got a trainer -- as much because I knew I had paid him and he was waiting for me as for "training." (He's charging me next to nothing, because he says he learns more from me than he gives.) When I started, I was bathed in sweat and exhausted after my workouts. Now, I have more energy than ever. And yes, muscle memory is real -- it's been coming back, and I look great again. It helps a lot if you ENJOY working out!

  136. "Later" is imprecise. The study looked at the 10-year mark and no later.

  137. Unless the guy in the picture is rehabbing a shoulder injury, or is on his last drop set (unlikely), the New York Times is contributing to misconceptions about resistance training for older people by this poor choice of image with such baby dumbbells. He is not going to gain much mass working with those weights.

  138. He's doing a warm up set..

  139. I disagree. High reps at a fast pace is a great way to build long flexible muscles. If you are training for athletic events other than football lineman it is a good way to go. Muscle bound weight lifters are not my (65, very active) idea of fit.

  140. @Adam You gain mass by walking, running, biking. After recovering from a shoulder injury, my physical therapist said: If you can rep a weight 30 times, then you can move up in weight. Week by week she measured a steady increase in strength starting at 2lb dumbells. As you get older, focus on strength relative to your body mass -- that is, you should be able to move your body with your arms. I think powerlifting becomes unhealthy and injury-prone as you get older.

  141. About 14 months ago, staring my 60th birthday square in the face, I started doing "Megaformer" Pilates, a type of exercise developed by Sebastien Lagree. It is one tough workout. However, after going to the "Beginner" class (ha!) 5 days a week for the 14 months, I've lost almost 50 pounds and have abs that I'm sort of sorry I don't have anyone to show them off to. The other day I couldn't make class, so I did some walking and a 7-minute plank, which I did with absolutely no trouble. Defined shoulders, a stronger back, better balance, good glutes, a tiny waist...I went from muffin-topping over a size 12 skirt to flirting with a size 6. Size and couture-wearing abilities aside, I feel terrific. The bottom line is simple: I love it. If you are considering adding exercise to your life, find something you love, something you're excited about doing and are thrilled to share with others. I don't understand people who act like they are doing something they detest; there's no need for that nowadays, since newer things like Megaformer Pilates and a million types of yoga have been added to the list with the old standards like swimming and jogging. You'll know it when it's right, and then do it.

  142. @lizinsarasota "If you are considering adding exercise to your life, find something you love, something you're excited about doing" I've been exercising regularly for the last 34 years. It took a while to go from experiencing it as a chore, to tolerating it, to enjoying it. Loving it? That's a stretch. I believe it is terminally misleading to advise a non-exerciser that one's work out method will be something you love or be excited about. I cynically smile when I see ads saying their method or equipment is "fun and easy". Come on, eating a donut is fun, lying on the couch is easy. Starting a serious exercise program requires an enormous degree of patience and discipline along with modestly staged expectations. So, advocates should temper their enthusiasm by providing advice to newbies that in the beginning it will be tough (unless you start so low scale that you're fooling yourself). Newbies are going from inertia to meaningful movement. Inertia sure feels better in the beginning.

  143. @lizinsarasota Good for you, Liz! How inspiring. Question: what role, if any, did cardio play in your results. I've read that after menopause it's better to focus on weight-bearing and resistance training for fat loss and definition. Did you lose weight as well, or inches from building muscle and definition?

  144. Those are wise words. There are so many ways to enjoy exercise. Soccer, cycling, rowing, trail running, classes, “boot camps,” pool and open water swimming, just to name a few. And if a gym is your only option, listen to a book while you lift or step or cycle. The enjoyment and the endorphins will make it something you look forward to. Sitting around is overrated.

  145. Yes, bless the iron pumpers and easily measured muscle mass. But, how do you measure the breezy exhilaration of deftly sailing along roads and paths by bicycle? And whence comes the benefits of intermittent intensive workouts by repetitive iron lifts as you, ignoring the deadly boredom, focus on the future magnificent you?

  146. @DH There is, indeed, a "magnificent you" in the future of anyone who devotes effort to "iron pumping." But having done both iron pumping and various types of cardio, I would posit that an equally (if not more) "impressive you" can be created by activities such as bicycling and running in the form of lower resting heart, lower blood pressure, lower inflammatory load, etc. All of which is very easily measured. Impressive pecs and biceps are not the only ways to health (and I don't think this research was trying to make that argument.) They are merely one of many tools/approaches to better fitness.

  147. a better you thru bicycling? huh? I better go tell my cycling friends who now have enlarged heart muscles...they are now better. with a heart that now skips a beat, and flutters requiring meds to calm it down. and no more bicycling...sounds better. not.

  148. @DH You do realize that leg muscles are much bigger than arms? So people who walk, run and/or bike a lot will tend to have large muscle mass. It is probably the exercise and not exactly the muscle itself that confers the benefit.

  149. Several friends who have gone to exercise classes at a gym for years look precisely the same to me.

  150. What would the proper muscle mass ratio be? The variables involved here are off the charts...and likely not measured. Define well-muscled? For a male 5'6" versus 6' 1", and in between? Ive been muscled-up, and muscled down...leaner, and bulkier, all muscle, little fat. All depended on my exercise and/or sports efforts at a particular age. Less heavy weights these days at 55+. Leaner and meaner, more flexible then ever...but still all muscle. The takeaway from this is likely to be; "Hey middle aged guys go out and bulk up!" Which will not result in the potential results suggested by this study. This information is so out of context, its sad and bad journalism.

  151. @Boregard From the article..."..This study does not show, though, that having plenty of muscle directly staves off heart disease, only that the two are related.It also cannot tell us just how muscle helps to protect the heart, but Dr. Tyrovolas suspects that the metabolic effects of the tissue, which include better blood-sugar control and less bodily inflammation, are likely to contribute..."

  152. Dan and what does "plenty" mean? about as defined as well muscled. I rest my case. The article didn't dig enough, or there was little to dig.

  153. As a 60+ year old, I'll add my experience: Legs are larger muscles than arms, so "muscle mass" often equates to lots of walking, running and/or biking. That is, many such people are physically fit, not that they necessarily lift weights. I used to think that exercise is good for maintaining but not losing weight. WRONG! You will lose weight if you exercise more than an hour a day. I have not weight lifted in life but I have run (due to age, every 3rd day now) and biked daily since high school. I just got back from backpacking at 14,000 feet in Peru, no problem thanks to a life of exercise -- I tolerate running but love love biking, oh I love it. I have no health problems nor medications yet ... I've just added moderate weight lifting because you want your arms to be able to move your body to fully enjoy life. Oh also: keep your teeth and gums healthy! -- floss and water pick. Bad gums cause bad heart and senility because they are a gateway for bacteria getting into your bloodstream. Other than that, put energy into friendships. Read Albert Ellis (Guide to Rational Living) to keep you emotional life in tune. Keep your brain in shape by reading, thinking, learning things. Yeah, sleep enough not to be tired in the day. Doing the above will maximize your healthy, enjoyable life. Live long and prosper dudes and dudettes!

  154. @BarryG "..WRONG! You will lose weight if you exercise more than an hour a day..." You can exercise all day but If you don't reduce your calorie intake when needed weight loss will be slow or not at all.

  155. Rather than sensationalizing things perhaps the conclusion is simply that the habits we pick up by middle age will define our golden years.

  156. Didn’t I already say that having a healthy heart enables you to exercise and be more fit.

  157. As a man who ate Real Food and minimal junk, but was not very active after I turned 55, I developed 3 blocked arteries in my heart. My LAD (the widowmaker) was blocked 98%. I am in the process of reversing this with a 100% Plant-Based diet and exercise. My heart output went from 17% in September 2018 to 52% by March 2019. While I think what is eat is important, I am quite sure that Exercise, especially raising your heartbeat, but also doing things to make me both stronger but to have better posture and coordination which makes exercise easier is Far More Important to my recovery. The success of my recovery is documented by both angiograms and nuclear perfusion tests. Building muscle in men is directly related to testosterone levels which I supplement with DHEA. September 2018 my testosterone was 1.7 and by March had risen to 4.2 and now is above 5.7 which is above average for my age, 69, especially sedentary men. I also use a standing desk and play music made for dancing while I work. I also take naps. I even see a rise in my cognitive function, memory, creativity and clarity of thought. Get up and move. And I listened to a young woman giving a talk about "Failing to Keep New Years Resolutions" everything can be put into the single sentence Don't give up Just Start Again even if it takes you a hundred times, Just Start Again.

  158. It would be nice if you showed us the stationary bike mentioned in teh article, even if most of us would not have access to such equipment. The stock photo of someone working out with light weights says and does nothing for us.

  159. Horizon/BBC, did a series on aging a few years back. A small study compared two groups, older folks - those who followed a gym equipment exercise program and those who participated only in a dance/exercise program. Both groups moved to the same music. The gym equipment group had little muscle mass improvement while the dance group experienced large gains.