Muscle Mass as a New Vital Sign

Is muscle mass more important than BMI?

By Shirley Archer, JD, MA
Jan 11, 2019

Fitness professionals understand the importance of building and maintaining lean body mass for functional mobility and health. New research shows that medical professionals should also be promoting this message to their patients. “Muscle mass should be looked at as a new vital sign,” said principal investigator Carla Prado, PhD, RD, associate professor at the University of Alberta, Canada. “If healthcare professionals identify and treat low muscle mass, they can significantly improve their patients’ health outcomes. Fortunately, advances in technology are making it easier for practitioners to measure muscle mass.”

Prado based her comments on findings from a review of over 140 studies in inpatient, outpatient and long-term care settings that looked at the relationship between muscle mass and health status. Investigators found that people with less muscle mass had more surgical and postoperative complications, longer hospital stays, lower physical function, poorer quality of life, and shorter lives overall. This was particularly true for individuals who also had a chronic disease.

The researchers question whether body mass index is the best measure for health evaluation, since BMI does not reveal differences between muscle and fat mass. And low muscle mass can occur in someone who has a “normal” weight, but who may, in fact, have health risks.

The review appeared in the Annals of Medicine (2018; doi: 10.1080/07853890.2018.1511918).

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Shirley Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is the 2008 IDEA Fitness Instructor of the Year and is IDEA's mind-body-spirit spokesperson. She is a certified yoga and Pilates teacher and an award-winning author based in Los Angeles, California, and Zurich, Switzerland. Two of her books, The Walking Deck and The Strength and Toning Deck, are now featured as iPhone apps. Contact her at www.shirleyarcher.com.

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