Be Strong, Live Long
The report calls for young people to engage in regular physical activity to boost muscular fitness to help cut down the risks of premature death.
According to the research into a million Swedish military conscripts, carried out over 24 years, 16 to 19-year-olds who had above average strength at the start of the study had a 20-35% lower risk of early death from cardiovascular diseases and other causes.
They also had a 20-30% lower risk of early death from suicide and were up to 65% less likely to have a psychiatric illness.
Teenagers with the lowest level of muscular strength had the highest risk of dying before they reached their mid-50s.
Poor muscle fitness had a similar effect to other risk factors for early death, such as obesity and high blood pressure.
Muscle strength is believed to be a key sign of overall fitness levels, which would explain the link.
But experts stressed the findings do not mean muscle building in itself makes you live longer. The study also did not explain whether physical weakness was caused by or resulted from ill health.
But health experts were last night united in promoting the benefits of physical activity in youngsters.
A spokeswoman for the British Heart Foundation said: “The benefits of being physically active at any age are well established, with studies showing it can prevent children from developing diseases later on in life, as well as improving their concentration at school, their overall mental health and well-being.”
Michael Kitto, personal trainer and bodybuilder at DW Sports Fitness Cardiff said good muscle strength helped with many aspects of life.
“It’s definitely beneficial, not just on a physical level, but on a mental level for confidence and self esteem. I’ve been competing in body building contests since I was 18 and it’s always helped me and made me more confident in my appearance and so more confident in other aspects of my life
“If people aren’t happy with their shape, then they can sometimes over eat and it can lead to depression.
“People who don’t look after themselves can have all sorts of problems such as cardiovascular, diabetes, obesity, heart problems.
“I can’t think of any cons for an active lifestyle.”
Sarah Jane Symonds-Smyth, 31, personal trainer at Dilons Health & Fitness Club in Newport, who has worked with the British Army and at the London 2012 Olympics, said muscle strength would also prevent injuries.
She said: “Prevention is definitely more important than cure and the predominant thing is core conditioning.
“A lot of body builders and weight lifters are working on strength and stretching to protect the muscles.
“Rugby will develop lower body strength, and team sports where you develop strength and work as a group is fantastic.”
The participants in the study, which is published in the British Medical Journal, were rated after undergoing three muscular strength tests; knee extension strength, handgrip strength and elbow flexion strength.
During the follow-up period, 26,145 participants, or 2.3% of the test group died, with suicide, 22.3%, the most common cause, compared with cancer, 14.9%, and cardiovascular diseases, 7.8%.
The authors say that low muscular strength in adolescents “is an emerging risk factor for major causes of death in young adulthood, such as suicide and cardiovascular diseases”.