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The Journals of Gerontology Series A: Biological Sciences and Medical Sciences 61:72-77 (2006)
© 2006 The Gerontological Society of America

Strength, But Not Muscle Mass, Is Associated With Mortality in the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study Cohort

Anne B. Newman1,, Varant Kupelian2, Marjolein Visser3, Eleanor M. Simonsick4, Bret H. Goodpaster5, Stephen B. Kritchevsky6, Frances A. Tylavsky7, Susan M. Rubin8, Tamara B. Harris4, on Behalf of the Health, Aging and Body Composition Study Investigators

1 Department of Epidemiology, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
2 New England Research Institutes, Watertown, Massachusetts.
3 Institute for Research in Extramural Medicine, VU Medical Center, and Institute of Health Sciences, Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
4 Laboratory for Epidemiology, Demography and Biometry, National Institute on Aging, Bethesda, Maryland.
5 Department of Medicine, University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
6 Wake Forest University School of Medicine, Winston-Salem, North Carolina.
7 Department of Preventive Medicine, University of Tennessee, Memphis.
8 Prevention Sciences Group, University of California, San Francisco.

Address correspondence to Anne B. Newman, MD, MPH, University of Pittsburgh, Department of Epidemiology, 130 N. Bellefield Avenue, Room 532, Pittsburgh, PA 15213. E-mail: newmana{at}

Background. Although muscle strength and mass are highly correlated, the relationship between direct measures of low muscle mass (sarcopenia) and strength in association with mortality has not been examined.

Methods. Total mortality rates were examined in the Health, Aging and Body Composition (Health ABC) Study in 2292 participants (aged 70–79 years, 51.6% women, and 38.8% black). Knee extension strength was measured with isokinetic dynamometry, grip strength with isometric dynamometry. Thigh muscle area was measured by computed tomography (CT) scan, and leg and arm lean soft tissue mass were determined by dual energy x-ray absorptiometry (DXA). Both strength and muscle size were assessed as in gender-specific Cox proportional hazards models, with age, race, comorbidities, smoking status, level of physical activity, fat area by CT or fat mass by DXA, height, and markers of inflammation, including interleukin-6, C-reactive protein, and tumor necrosis factor-{alpha} considered as potential confounders.

Results. There were 286 deaths over an average of 4.9 (standard deviation = 0.9) years of follow-up. Both quadriceps and grip strength were strongly related to mortality. For quadriceps strength (per standard deviation of 38 Nm), the crude hazard ratio for men was 1.51 (95% confidence interval, 1.28–1.79) and 1.65 (95% confidence interval, 1.19–2.30) for women. Muscle size, determined by either CT area or DXA regional lean mass, was not strongly related to mortality. In the models of quadriceps strength and mortality, adjustment for muscle area or regional lean mass only slightly attenuated the associations. Further adjustment for other factors also had minimal effect on the association of quadriceps strength with mortality. Associations of grip strength with mortality were similar.

Conclusion. Low muscle mass did not explain the strong association of strength with mortality, demonstrating that muscle strength as a marker of muscle quality is more important than quantity in estimating mortality risk. Grip strength provided risk estimates similar to those of quadriceps strength.

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