Maintaining muscles into middle age may help men ward off heart attacks and strokes in later life, new research suggests.
The amount of lean muscle a healthy person has in middle age is linked to their future risk of heart disease, say researchers in the Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health.
Muscular tissue volume starts to ebb away from the mid-thirties at a rate of around 3 per cent every decade.
The researchers say regular physical activity, including resistance training, and a protein-rich diet may help preserve lean muscle mass as people age.
They tracked the number of new cases of cardiovascular disease arising over a period of 10 years in 2020 Greek adults without heart disease.
Just over half - 1019 - were aged 45 and above at the study's start in 2001/02.
Participants provided lifestyle information, including on how closely they followed a Mediterranean diet, and how much they exercised, while blood pressure, BMI and skeletal muscle mass were also calculated.
Some 272 fatal and non-fatal cases of cardiovascular disease, including stroke and minor stroke, arose among the 1019 middle-aged participants.
Men were around four times as likely to develop cardiovascular disease as women, after accounting for potentially influential factors.
The fewest cases occurred in the third of people with the highest muscle volume compared with those in the lowest range at the start of the monitoring period.
Those with the highest muscle volume were 81 per cent less likely to have a heart attack or stroke, they found.
They tended to have fewer instances of high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity, and to be younger, male, smokers, physically active and consumers of a Mediterranean-style diet.
The association held true, but only in men, when factors such as diet, household income, education, and risk factors such as diabetes were accounted for.
The authors believe this may be due to men having a higher muscle volume to start with and hormonal differences between men and women during ageing.
The study cannot establish cause, but the authors conclude: "Throughout this study, the importance of skeletal muscle mass preservation to prevent long-term cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk among the middle aged/older population has been highlighted.
"The prevention of skeletal muscle mass decline, which is becoming increasingly prevalent among middle aged and older populations, may constitute an effective means of promoting CVD health."
Australian Associated Press