Your strength and muscle development may be hardwired into your genes, suggests a new study.
Researchers from the University of Cambridge identified 16 genetic variants tied to physical vigor in a large-scale study that assessed nearly 200,000 individuals among four countries.
To gain their findings, the researchers turned to a telltale sign of physical prowess — the strength of one’s hand gripping an object.
“Muscle strength, measured by isometric hand grip strength, is an accessible and widely used proxy of muscular fitness,” report the study authors in the journal Nature Communications.
After running comparisons on the study participants’ genome, the researchers discovered 16 distinct genetic markers that they believe are tied to a person’s muscle strength. Adding credence to their discovery was the fact that the genetic variants were spotted near genes already known to affect musculature and strength.
“A number of the lead variants were located within or close to genes implicated in structure and function of skeletal muscle fibers, neuronal maintenance and signal transduction in the central and peripheral nervous systems,” report the study authors.
The new study gives the medical community a great understanding of how our DNA impacts strength, and also may shed light on interventions that can reduce the risk of low strength in the elderly.
“While we have long suspected a role for genetics in the variation in muscle strength, these findings give the first insights into some of the specific genetic variants that underpin variation in strength,” said study co-author Dr. Robert Scott.
When the researchers turned to grip strength to compare muscle-building, they did so knowing that it was a valuable tool to gauge a person’s overall health and wellness, particularly among older adults.
“Lower grip strength is associated with impaired quality of life in older adults, and is an established marker of frailty, predicting physical decline and functional limitation in daily living,” wrote the study authors.
As such, the new discovery may hold a key to medical interventions.
“These could be important steps towards identifying new treatments to prevent or treat muscle weakness,” said Scott.
While the researchers did not find a link between lower grip strength and a greater risk of mortality or the development of heart disease, they did discover that more strength in one’s grip was associated with a decreased risk of fracture.
The findings “provide evidence for a causal role in fracture risk, highlighting the importance of interventions to improve muscle strength as a means to reduce fracture risk and resultant morbidities,” reported the study authors.
The study involved about 140,000 individuals from the UK Biobank study, along with about 50,000 others from Australia, Denmark, the Netherlands and the UK.
“The very large number of individuals participating in UK Biobank provides a powerful resource for identifying genes involved in complex traits such as muscle strength, and helps us understand their underlying biology and its relevance to health,” said co-author Dan Wright, a Ph.D. student at the Medical Research Council Epidemiology (MRC) Unit at the University of Cambridge.
Richard Scott is a health care reporter focusing on health policy and public health. Richard keeps tabs on national health trends from his Philadelphia location and is an active member of the Association of Health Care Journalists.