PhotoIf you're one of those people who thinks that lifting weights into middle and old age is little more than vanity, think again. A UCLA study finds that heart disease patients who have a high muscle mass and low fat mass have a lower mortality risk than those with other body compositions.

The findings also suggest that having lots of muscle mass even helps reduce the risk of death for those with a high level of body fat.

Researchers believe these results could explain the so-called "obesity paradox," which holds that people with a higher BMI have lower mortality levels, which goes against the widely held belief that the most important factor in cardiovascular health is reducing fat.

The study also highlights the importance of maintaining muscle mass, rather than focusing on weight loss, in order to prolong life, even in people who have a higher cardiovascular risk.

The researchers suggest that doctors encourage their patients to participate in resistance exercises -- weight lifting, in other words -- as a part of healthy lifestyle changes, rather than focusing primarily on weight loss.

Study details

In reaching their conclusions, the researchers examined data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey of 6,451 participants who had prevalent cardiovascular disease. Each person was categorized into one of four groups:

  • low muscle/low fat mass
  • low muscle/high fat mass
  • high muscle/low fat mass
  • high muscle/high fat mass

Those with high muscle mass and low fat mass had the lowest risk of cardiovascular and total mortality.

The study was published in the American Journal of Cardiology.

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