In a new study from the University of Bristol, researchers found that changes in body fat impact early markers of heart health more than changes in body muscle, suggesting there are greater benefits to be expected from losing fat than from gaining muscle.
In the study, more than 3,200 people were measured repeatedly for levels of body fat and lean mass using a body scanning device.
These scans were performed four times across participants’ lives, when they were children, adolescents, and young adults (at ages 10, 13, 18 and 25 years). Handgrip strength was also tested when they were aged 12 and 25 years.
When the participants were 25 years old, blood samples were collected and a technique called “metabolomics” was used to measure over 200 detailed markers of metabolism including different types of harmful cholesterol, glucose, and inflammation.
These markers together indicate one’s susceptibility to developing heart disease and other health conditions.
The findings showed that gaining fat mass was strongly and consistently related to poorer metabolic health in young adulthood, as indicated, for example, by higher levels of harmful cholesterol.
These effects were much larger (often about 5-times larger) than any beneficial effect of gaining muscle.
Where there were benefits of gaining muscle, these were specific to gains that had occurred in adolescence—suggesting that this early stage of life is a key window for promoting muscle gain and reaping its benefits.
The team says the fat loss is difficult, but that does seem to be where the greatest health benefits lie. Doctors need to double down on preventing fat gain and supporting people in losing fat and keeping it off.
The study also found that improving strength (based on handgrip) has slightly greater benefits for markers of heart health than gaining muscle itself, suggesting that the frequent use of
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The study is published in PLoS Medicine. One author of the study is Dr. Joshua Bell.
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