Good Body Fat?
Those findings come from an analysis of 15 years of national health survey data showing that deaths due to heart disease in women with high muscle mass and high body fat were 42 percent lower than among women with low muscle mass and low body fat. However, the researchers reported that women who had high muscle mass and low body fat did not appear have a significant advantage over the comparison group.
In men, high muscle mass and high body fat decreased the risk of death by 26 percent (compared to those with low muscle mass and low body fat), However, high muscle mass and low body fat decreased men’s risk by 60 percent.
The American Heart Association (AHA) estimates that 5 million men and 3 million women have heart attacks annually. However, despite this wide gender gap and an overall decrease in heart attack deaths among both men and women over the past 50 years, an equal number of men and women still die from heart disease.
The organization also reports that deaths among women during that time period dropped at a slower rate than deaths among men, and that the incidence of heart attacks appears to be increasing among women between age 35 and 54.
To arrive at these conclusions the researchers analyzed body composition data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2004 and cardiovascular disease data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 1999-2014. They evaluated 11,463 individuals aged 20 and older, and then divided them into four groups – those with low muscle mass and low body fat, low muscle and high fat, high muscle and low fat, and high muscle and high fat. Heart disease-related death rates were calculated for each of these groups.
The AHA said the new findings highlight the importance of recognizing physiological differences between men and women when considering body composition and the risk of death from heart disease, particularly how differences in body fat affect that risk. Despite the current emphasis on reducing fat to lower the risk of heart disease, the study authors wrote that it may be important for women to focus more on building muscle mass than losing weight.
Preethi Srikanthan et al, “Sex Differences in the Association of Body Composition and Cardiovascular Mortality.” Journal of the American Heart Association, February 23, 2021; DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.120.017511
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