Our body is made up of over 660 skeletal muscles. Muscles mainly contain water, while approximately 20% are proteins and 5% salts and minerals. The muscle proteins have several distinct structures making muscle contractions and relaxations possible. By fine-tuned coordination of muscle contractions and relaxations we are able to walk and move around. Amino acids are the building blocks of all proteins, also our skeletal muscle proteins. To maintain strong skeletal muscles, we need to eat a sufficient amount of food containing amino acids and to do lifelong exercise.
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An easy test of skeletal muscle strength is handgrip strength. By squeezing a rubber ball or similar devices, handgrip strength can be measured. As we get older handgrip strength typically decreases, particularly after mid-life.
Skeletal muscle strength and muscle mass are strongly associated with health. Middle age and elderly people with strong muscles have fewer injuries, recover better if injured and are better able to handle everyday life and care for themselves. Healthy adults with reduced handgrip strength also have higher risk of premature death, cardiovascular disease and cancer. A recent study in the Lancet showed that for every 5kg reduction in handgrip strength, the risk of dying prematurely increased by 16%.
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It is not all clear why handgrip muscle strength can predict future health. It has been suggested that skeletal muscles play a central part in whole body protein metabolism, particularly during stress. If an acute need for protein building blocks occurs due to a large trauma, disease or surgery, the amino acids “stored” in muscles may be used as a reservoir to repair other tissues. With low skeletal muscle mass (sarcopenia) and low food intake, a limited amount of building blocs will be available for the normal 24-7 repair processes. This could limit the body’s ability for self repair and possibly give long-term negative health consequences.
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So, take good care of your skeletal muscles with healthy nutrition and regular physical activity – they are very important for your health.
Trine Karlsen, researcher at CERG