Lower Muscle Density Linked to Poor Balance, Risk of Falls

Harvard Medical School

A new study, led by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Hebrew SeniorLife, published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism, found that age-related accumulation of abdominal fat is associated with lower muscle density.

  • By MICHAEL CHMURA | Hebrew SeniorLife

Low muscle density means that the muscle has more fat in it, which can lead to less effective muscle function that in turn may lead to more falls. According to the study, individuals with the greatest 6-year accumulation of visceral adipose tissue (VAT), found in the abdomen, had significantly lower muscle density.

This research is the first large, longitudinal study of the association between changes in VAT and muscle density.

"Most obesity research has focused on metabolic and cardiovascular outcomes such as diabetes, hyperlipidemia, hypertension, coronary heart disease, and osteoarthritis. But there is considerably less consensus on the role of obesity on the risk for low muscle mass or muscle density," said lead author Ching-Ti Liu of the Boston University School of Public Health, and senior author Douglas Kiel, HMS professor of medicine and director of the Musculoskeletal Research Center at Hebrew SeniorLife.

The study found that VAT may represent a modifiable risk factor for poor musculoskeletal outcomes with aging.

"The study adds important new information to public health efforts to reverse the trend of the growing obesity problem in the United States and worldwide," the authors said. "Fat that accumulates in the abdomen, sometimes referred to as the 'male pattern,' was shown to produce less dense muscle surrounding the spine, resulting in less effective muscle function."

Authorship, funding, disclosures

Co-authors on the study were Timothy Tsai, Marian Hannan, and Thomas Travison, Hebrew SeniorLife; and Brett Allaire and Mary Bouxsein, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Funding for this study came from the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases (R01 AR041398).

Adapted from a Hebrew SeniorLife news release.

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