Strength and fitness in teens may prevent disability

Quadriceps muscle strength in teens can predict the likelihood of disability as adults.

There is no doubt that fitness is the key to better health and academic success in teenagers, but it may also predict health outcomes decades later. A recent study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that muscular strength in teens may indicate their likelihood of disability later in life.

Teens Needs Strong Muscles

Muscular strength and endurance are two components of the FitnessGram assessment by The Cooper Institute because they are strong determinants of health. There is an abundance of research showing the relationship between muscular strength and obesity, cardiovascular disease, and metabolic risk factors in youth. Poor muscular strength is also associated with premature death from all-causes, suicide, and heart disease. Injuries and chronic diseases such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and stroke are of particular concern as they frequently lead to premature death and disability.

The study looked at over 1.2 million Swedish men to examine the relationship between their muscular strength as teens (ages 16-19) and the likelihood of disability years down the road. Researchers looked at quadriceps strength and found that there is a strong association between muscle weakness and disability due to psychiatric and nervous system issues, among others. Naturally, the study found that the reverse was true – the stronger the quads, the less likely to end up disabled.

Cardio Fitness Matters

Even more important was the connection to cardio fitness. The adolescents who were both aerobically unfit and physically weak were 89% more likely to end up on disability as adults than those who were highly fit and strong. The study also found that even obese teens had a lower risk of disability – as long as they still had strong muscles and aerobic fitness.

Cardio fitness in teens is an important predictor of later-life disability.

What this tells us is that weight, strength, or cardio fitness alone don’t always give us an accurate picture of health. However, a comprehensive fitness program of both cardio and strength exercises can protect our young people from disability in their later years.

This is why an accurate assessment such as FitnessGram is important to measure muscular strength and endurance, aerobic fitness, and body composition. If we want our teens to grow up to live long, healthy lives # WELLintothefuture, then we need to do more to make sure they are strong, fit and at a healthy body weight now.

Reference:

Henriksson, H., Henriksson, P., Tynelius, P. & Ortega, F.B. (2019). Muscular weakness in adolescence is associated with disability 30 years later: A population-based cohort study of 1.2 million men. British Journal of Sports Medicine, 53,1221 – 1230.

Henriksson, P., Henriksson, H., Tynelius, P., Beglind, D., Lof, M., Lee, IM, Shiroma, E., Ortega, F. (2019). Fitness and Body Mass Index during Adolescence and Disability Later in Life. Annals of Internal Medicine, doi:10.7326/M18-1861.


Written by Andjelka Pavlovic, PhD

Dr. Pavlovic is the Director of Youth Research and Education for The Cooper Institute and is a double-certified personal trainer. Her research focus is muscular strength/endurance, cardiorespiratory fitness, and the impact of both on chronic diseases and health outcomes.