Muscle strength, disability and mortality

Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2003 Feb;13(1):3-8. doi: 10.1034/j.1600-0838.2003.00298.x.


The aims of this review are to address (1) the role of muscle strength in the disablement process and (2) muscle strength as a predictor of length of life using data from prospective studies. Functional limitations, such as slow walking speed, predispose older people to disabilities. How much strength is needed for daily motor tasks such as walking varies according to other impairments present. For example, when postural balance is good, only minimum amount of strength is needed for walking. However, in the presence of balance impairment, having good level of strength may help to compensate for the deficit. Having strength well above the required level indicates reserve capacity. It was studied using data from the Honolulu Heart Program launched in 1965 among 8006 men initially aged 45-68 years, whether reserve of strength would be protective of development of future disability. All men with documented diseases at baseline were excluded from the analyses. Those men who were in the lowest third of the distribution of grip strength at baseline were at two to three times greater risk of developing disabilities assessed 25 years later compared to the highest third. It is possible that before they reach the disability level, those with greater reserve of strength may afford to lose more strength, for example following bed rest and inactivity associated with an illness. Midlife grip strength was also found to predict long-term total mortality: those with poorer strength at baseline were more likely to die over the follow-up period of 30 years. The association between muscle strength and disability is largely explained by biomechanical mechanisms. However, the mechanism explaining the association between muscle strength and mortality risk still remains to be explored.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Activities of Daily Living
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Disability Evaluation*
  • Humans
  • Mortality*
  • Muscle, Skeletal / physiopathology*
  • Risk Factors