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The muscles you are growing now may save your life later

If you ever have to undergo major surgery, your muscle mass will determine whether you will get complications - and whether you survive. Jeroen van Vugt, a Dutch PhD student who obtained his PhD at Erasmus University in Rotterdam on 20 December 2017, discovered this.

Van Vugt studied the data of 206 people with an aggressive variant of colon cancer. The patients had to undergo surgery, and 44% of them had lost so much muscle mass, according to scans - due to their advanced age, lifestyle and illness - that doctors diagnosed them with sarcopenia.

In the latter group, complications after the operation seemed to occur more frequently. The physicians had to operate on these muscle depleted patients 2.1 times more often a second time than on patients with a healthy amount of muscle mass.

The muscles you are growing now may save your life later

In another study, Van Vugt followed a group of 816 colorectal cancer patients, in which doctors had removed affected organs. The average age of the study participants was about 70 years.

Using scans, Van Vugt determined both the muscle mass and the muscular density of the patients. [If in muscle tissue the amount of contracting muscle fibers decreases due to inactivity and that of body fat increases, the muscle density decreases.]

There was a tendency that patients with relatively little muscle mass died more often after the surgical procedure than patients with a lot of muscle mass, but there was no statistically significant difference between groups.

The muscles you are growing now may save your life later

The muscles you are growing now may save your life later

The figure above shows that the study participants with a relatively high muscle density had greater chance of survival than the participants with a low muscle density. And that difference was statistically significant.

In yet another study Van Vugt collected previously published research on the correlation between muscle mass and the chances of survival of people who had a liver transplant.

And yes again: in those studies a relatively high muscle mass increased the chances of survival.

The muscles you are growing now may save your life later

"Of course, the loss of muscle mass is related to the disease these people have," Van Vugt said in a press release. [ 15 december 2017] "But their physical condition they had before they became ill is also a factor. A lifestyle with sufficient exercise, a healthy diet and a healthy weight will therefore not only help to keep you healthy now, but will also make you more resistant to life threatening diseases in the future."

Van Vugt, J.L.A. (2017, December 20). The impact of low skeletal muscle mass in abdominal surgery. Erasmus University Rotterdam.

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