Higher body fat may prevent heart disease death in women

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In a new study, researchers found that while men and women who have high muscle mass are less likely to die from heart disease.

It also appears that women who have higher levels of body fat — regardless of their muscle mass — have a greater degree of protection than women with less fat.

The research was conducted by a team at UCLA.

The American Heart Association estimates that 5 million men and 3 million women 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 the study, the team analyzed national health survey data collected over a 15-year period.

They found that heart disease–related death in women with high muscle mass and high body fat was 42% lower than in a comparison group of women with low muscle mass and low body fat.

However, women who had high muscle mass and low body fat did not appear to have a big advantage over the comparison group.

Among men, on the other hand, while having high muscle mass and high body fat decreased their risk by 26% (compared to those with low muscle mass and low body fat), having high muscle mass and low body fat decreased their risk by 60%.

The findings highlight the importance of recognizing 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.

The research also underscores the need to develop sex‐appropriate guidelines with respect to exercise and nutrition as preventive strategies against the development of heart 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 is published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. One author of the study is Dr. Preethi Srikanthan.

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