This article originally was published on Medical Daily.
What does the size of your arm say about you, other than how much you can bench? Maybe whether you will survive heart disease.
A study in the American Journal of Cardiology looked at the upper arms of almost 600 older adults with cardiovascular disease and found a link between their circumferences—the distances around them—and survival rates. The researchers took measurements of the mid-upper arm and calf circumferences, two numbers which are used to help determine muscle mass, and studied the patients’ muscle function through their gait speed and grip strength. During a period of follow-up averaging about a year and a half, 72 of the adults, who were all at least 65 years old, had died, but those with higher circumferences had better outcomes.
Although the raw data suggested both upper arm and calf sizes are correlated with chances of dying of heart disease, the researchers wrote that only the arm measurement proved to be a “significant” capability to independently predict outcomes.
The researchers said the mid-upper arm circumference “could be a readily available and simple metric” for determining risk in older patients with heart disease.
When older people lose muscle mass and strength as they age, it’s referred to as sarcopenia and could be the result of a number of factors, including changes in hormones, less physical activity, chronic illness, neurological decline and poor nutrition, an article on the U.S. National Institutes of Health says. It can be dangerous, leading to a loss of function and weakness or even disability, and has been associated with chronic conditions like increased insulin resistance, which can lead to diabetes, and rheumatoid arthritis.
The suggested link between arm circumference, and thus muscle mass, and heart disease survival rates may not be surprising given that exercise has long been noted as a way to stave off or manage the condition. For people who are 60 and older, the American Heart Association says, “Excess weight causes your heart to work harder and increases the risk for heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol. Exercising regularly and eating smaller portions of nutrient-rich foods may help you maintain a healthy weight.”