Want To Live Longer? You May Want To Start From The Ground Up
By John McKay, RN
From the moment we take our first health class in elementary school we are taught how to take care of our bodies to live a happy, healthy life. We all know the basics: drink plenty of water, eat your fruits and vegetables, and get outside for some cardio a few times every week. Of course all of these things are important. But there is another major indicator that is key to longevity that many people don’t know about: leg strength.
The advancements our medical community has made is nothing short of remarkable. We have medications, surgeries and therapy’s. These can cure or treat almost every injury or disease mother nature can throw at us. But outside of taking a pill or having an operation, an increase in leg strength can increase how long you live as well as your quality of life as you age.
Helping My Patients Live Longer
As an RN and Recovery Coach I see first-hand what is possible in regaining strength. And what happens when the cascading effects of the lack of mobility start to add up. A few years ago I worked with a CHF (Congestive Heart Failure) patient in a nursing facility. This patient fell down and broke his hip as a result of poor leg strength. This began a series of negative health events. He lost even more strength as he attempted to recover from the hip. This muscle weakness meant that he was not able to move adequately to pump the swelling and blood, that under normal circumstance would circulate throughout his body. One health challenge can be compounded with another. And it becomes increasingly difficult to rebound. It was sad to see the accelerated decline of a person who might have otherwise had many more years of normal activity.
Measuring Strength and Fat Mass
A 2010 study set out to find the correlation between muscle mass, muscle strength, fat mass and physical function. The study included 1,280 adults over the age of 55. In the study it was found that the leg strength and fat mass were equally the best predictors of physical function and mortality in older adults (Bouchard, et al, 2010). This may seem surprising to some. But the stronger an individual’s legs are, the more likely they will be to participate in cardiovascular activity, hence improving overall health. Looking to get into better overall cardiovascular health? The results of this study suggest improving your leg strength would be a great place to start.
To Live Longer, Don’t Fall
Now let’s discuss falls. Unfortunately, falls are a serious issue as we age. Of course, environmental hazards like rug or a cord pose a risk for an individual to trip and fall, but more often than not, falls are caused by personal risk hazards. Of these factors, the two largest risk factors are leg weakness and poor balance (which is typically prefaced by weak leg muscles). Many individuals with these risk factors may also have other comorbidities that would make recovering from a fall far more difficult. So not only do weak leg muscles make it more likely that someone will fall, it will make the recovery from that fall far more challenging. This is a perfect example of why X10 patient’s have such great results when they’re able to strengthen with our prehab program.
One study that focused on the loss of quadriceps strength after a knee replacement (TKA) found a 62% postoperative decrease in patient quad strength compared to before surgery (Mizner, et al, 2005). This is the reason behind prehab. Every patient will experience a loss in muscle strength and flexibility after surgery. However, the more strength and flexibility one is able to add prior to surgery, the better off they will be after surgery.
Muscle Mass to Live Longer (A New Study)
Finally, and perhaps most surprisingly, just last year a study was published showing the association of muscle mass, strength and all-cause mortality with adults in the United States. The study followed 4449 individuals, all over the age of 50. The results of the study found that low muscle strength was independently associated with an elevated risk of all-cause mortality. This includes metabolic syndrome risk factors (Li, et al, 2018). Metabolic syndrome risk factors include high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and abnormal cholesterol levels, which all increase the risk of stroke, heart disease and diabetes. In other words, a patient’s muscle strength is a good indicator of how long they will live. This is regardless of an individual having any of these other risk factors. So be sure to get that strength training in!
Learning to Take Care of Ourselves to Live Longer
This research demonstrates the critical role leg strength has not only in our day-to-day lives but in planning for happy healthy lives in years to come. These results show how important it is to build strength and take care of ourselves. Happy strengthening!
Bouchard, D. R., Héroux, M., & Janssen, I. (2010). Association Between Muscle Mass, Leg Strength, and Fat Mass With Physical Function in Older Adults: Influence of Age and Sex. Journal of Aging and Health,23(2), 313-328. doi:10.1177/0898264310388562 Li, R., Xia, J., Zhang, X., Gathirua-Mwangi, W. G., Guo, J., Li, Y., . . . Song, Y. (2018). Associations of Muscle Mass and Strength with All-Cause Mortality among US Older Adults. Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise,50(3), 458-467. doi:10.1249/mss.0000000000001448 Mizner, R. L., Petterson, S. C., Stevens, J. E., Vandenborne, K., & Snyder-Mackler, L. (2005). Early Quadriceps Strength Loss After Total Knee Arthroplasty. The Journal of Bone and Joint Surgery-American Volume,87(5), 1047-1053. doi:10.2106/00004623-200505000-00016
The X10 Meta-Blog
We call it a “Meta-Blog” because we step back and give you a broad perspective on all aspects of knee health, surgery and recovery and such subjects as how to live longer.
In this one-of-a-kind blog we gather together great thinkers, doers, writers related to Knee Surgery, Recovery, Preparation, Care, Success and Failure. Meet physical therapists, coaches, surgeons, patients, and as many smart people as we can gather to create useful articles for you. Whether you have a surgery upcoming, in the rear-view mirror, or just want to take care of your knees to avoid surgery, you should find some value here. Executive Editor: PJ Ewing (firstname.lastname@example.org)