'Fat but powerful' paradox: association of muscle power and adiposity markers with all-cause mortality in older adults from the EXERNET multicentre study

Julian Alcazar, David Navarrete-Villanueva, Asier Mañas, Alba Gómez-Cabello, Raquel Pedrero-Chamizo, Luis M Alegre, Gerardo Villa, Narcís Gusi, Marcela González-Gross, Jose Antonio Casajús, German Vicente-Rodriguez, Ignacio Ara
British Journal of Sports Medicine 2021 March 16

OBJECTIVES: To assess the influence of muscle power and adiposity on all-cause mortality risk and to evaluate the 'fat but powerful' (F+P) (or 'fat but fit') paradox in older adults.

METHODS: A total of 2563 older adults (65‒91 years old) from the EXERNET multicentre study were included. Adiposity (body mass index (BMI), waist circumference, body fat percentage (BF%) and fat index), allometric and relative power (sit-to-stand muscle power test) and various covariates (age, sex, hypertension, smoking status and walking and sitting times per day) were registered at baseline. All-cause mortality was recorded during a median follow-up of 8.9 years. Participants were classified into four groups: lean and powerful (L+P), F+P, lean but weak and fat and weak (F+W). Cox proportional hazard regression models and adjusted HRs were calculated.

RESULTS: According to BMI and waist circumference, all-cause mortality risk was reduced in the F+P (HR=0.55 and 0.63, p=0.044 and 0.049, respectively) and L+P (HR=0.57 and 0.58, p=0.043 and 0.025, respectively) groups. According to BF%, all-cause mortality decreased in the L+P group (HR=0.53; p=0.021), and a trend for a reduction was reported in the F+P group (HR=0.57; p=0.060). According to fat index, a survival benefit was only noted in the L+P group (HR=0.50; p=0.049). Higher levels of relative power reduced all-cause mortality risk among older people (HR=0.63 and 0.53, p=0.006 and 0.011, respectively).

CONCLUSION: Powerful older people exhibited a reduced 9-year all-cause mortality regardless of BMI, waist circumference and BF%. Obesity according to fat index blunted the survival benefits of being powerful.

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