Stronger Teens Live On

Muscular weakness in kids tied to more deaths before 55

(RxWiki News) Putting on some muscle now pays off later. Way later. Having little muscle strength as a teenager is linked with a higher risk of dying earlier from a number of causes, new research has found.

The research findings stress the need for young people to be active on a regular basis and develop strong muscles. 

Independent of blood pressure and BMI issues, those with higher muscular strength had a 20 to 35 percent lower risk of dying before middle age.

"Kids should exercise 30 minutes each day."

The study, led by Finn Rasmussen, PhD, professor of social medicine at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, followed more than a million Swedish male teenagers between 16 and 19 years of age over almost a quarter of a century. The boys were part of the Swedish military conscription, which excludes those with a chronic disease or severe handicap.

The strength in boys' upper legs, biceps and hands were tested at the beginning of the study. Researchers also measured their blood pressure and body mass index, which takes their height and weight together.

"We concluded the handgrip test and tests of lower body muscle strength (jump tests, leg extension) are the most reliable, valid, and health-related muscular strength tests," researchers wrote in their report.

Twenty-four years later, a little more than two percent, or 26,145 of the boys, had died.

Suicide caused the most deaths, followed by cancer and cardiovascular diseases at about 22, 15 and 8 percent respectively. Boys with the least muscular strength had the most number of deaths by their mid-50s from suicides, cardiovascular disease and all other causes, researchers found.

Among the strongest teens, about 87 had died from all causes compared to more than 122 of the weaker boys. Only six of the stronger boys died from cardiovascular disease and about 17 from suicide, versus about 10 and 25 of the weaker boys respectively.

"People at increased risk of long term mortality, because of lower muscular strength, should be encouraged to engage in exercise programs and other forms of physical activity," researchers said in a press release.

The chance of dying early from suicide was 20 to 30 percent lower among teens with more muscle strength. These teens are also up to 65 percent less likely to have mood disorders, schizophrenia and other mental problems.

The authors say physically weaker teens might be more mentally vulnerable.

They note they only studied boys and future research should look into larger populations including girls. They also did not see if lack of muscular strength is the cause of early death.

The study, funded by the Swedish Research Council and the Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation, was published online November 20 the British Medical Journal. The authors don't have any conflicts of interest.

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Review Date: 
November 25, 2012