When you think of body composition and the risk of heart disease, you’ll probably jump to body fat percentage as the main teller. However, a recent study in Nature aimed to shed some light on what influences heart health in women5: Surprisingly, body weight and body fat weren’t at the top of the list. In fact, muscle mass may play a more important role.
The study analyzed 146 women between the ages of 16 and 58. Participants’ cardiorespiratory fitness was measured using an exercise test, and researchers also collected their body fat percentage, fat-free mass index (a measure of fat-free tissue—like bone, muscle, and fluid), and mean arterial pressure (i.e., blood pressure in the arteries).
To sum up the results: Researchers found that the amount of fat-free mass (like muscle) you carry may play a bigger role in heart health than body fat or total body weight. They found that age plays a factor as well, which is important to call out as women tend to lose muscle mass as they age.
All of this to say, building muscle mass is an important step to optimizing heart health. If you prioritize protein intake and take part in muscle-building exercises like resistance training, you’ll be off to a great start.
If you want to know more about this study, check out our full explainer here, and feel free to follow Attia’s longevity-boosting workout plan.