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Kids’ muscle strength linked to heart health

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Adolescent boys and girls who have greater muscle strength are at a lower risk for heart disease and diabetes, according to a study published in the March 31 online journal Pediatrics.

The study included 1,421 children ages 10 to 12 from 17 mid-area Michigan schools between 2005 and 2008. Participants were tested for strength capacity using a standardized hand-grip strength assessment. Researchers also measured body fat percentages, glucose levels, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and triglycerides.

Greater strength was associated with better blood pressure, cholesterol and body-fat levels. Specifically, increased muscle strength was linked to lower levels of LDL (the bad cholesterol), and higher levels of HDL (the good cholesterol). Stronger kids also showed lower blood sugar levels.

“It’s a widely held belief that BMI, sedentary behaviors and low cardiovascular fitness levels are linked to diabetes, heart disease and stroke, but our findings suggest muscle strength possibly may play an equally important role in cardiometabolic health in children,” lead author Mark D. Peterson, PhD, a research assistant professor in the department of physical medicine and rehabilitation at the University of Michigan Medical School, said in a university news release.

The study is believed to be the first to show a link between strength capacity and a lower chance of having diabetes, heart disease or a stroke in adolescence.

Paul M. Gordon, PhD, a professor of health, human performance and recreation at Baylor University in Texas, and the study’s corresponding author, noted that strengthening activities may be just as important as physical activities.

Although the findings don’t prove that stronger muscles lead directly to better health, “this sheds light on the fact that strength may be just as important a predictor of kids’ [health] as aerobic fitness,” Gordon told HealthDay.

Gordon cautioned that muscle strengthening does not mean children should lift weights. Rather, he said kids could increase their strength with any activity that requires “lifting their body weight against gravity.” Such activities could include climbing on an indoor climbing wall or on monkey bars, or doing push-ups.