LOS ANGELES, Calif. — With all the information out there on proper diet, many immediately think “fat equals unhealthy.” However, a new study is reporting that more body fat can actually be beneficial — especially for women. Researchers at UCLA say women with higher levels of body fat, regardless of muscle mass, enjoy greater protection from heart disease than women carrying less weight.
After analyzing data spanning 15 years, study authors discovered that heart disease-related deaths were 42 percent lower among women with both high muscle mass and high body fat in comparison to women with low muscle mass and body fat. Surprisingly, females with lots of muscle mass but little fat did not fare any better than those with less muscle and fat.
For men, the study finds those with high levels of both muscle mass and body fat had a 26-percent lower chance of heart disease. Men with high muscle mass and low body fat were 60 percent less likely to develop heart disease.
These findings could prove life-saving for countless women. Around three million women suffer heart attacks every year in the United States alone. Making matters worse, while the overall rate of heart attacks is slowly declining over time, heart attacks among women between 35 and 45 years-old are actually increasing.
What works for men may not work for women
Researchers used body composition data provided by the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 1999-2004. They also examined cardiovascular disease data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey between 1999-2014. In all, that information included 11,463 individuals, all over the age of 20. Study authors separated the participants into four groups: low muscle mass and low body fat, low muscle and high fat, high muscle and low fat, and high muscle and high fat.
The team then calculated each group’s heart disease-related mortality rates.
In conclusion, the research team says these results highlight the physiological differences between men and women. What helps prevent heart disease in a man may not prove as effective for a woman. In a university release, they recommend gender-specific recommendations regarding body fat levels, muscle mass, and other factors contributing to good health.
The study is published in the Journal of American Heart Association.