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What Your Biceps Say About Your Health

Why building your arm muscles is about more than just looking good

Close-up of male bicep lifting barbell

Men have always thought too much about our biceps — how we can build them, whether potential partners care how big our biceps are, and other dumb questions. But in 2021, a group of scientists in China decided to ask if our arms could tell us anything about our health.

They measured the arms of roughly 18,000 people and followed them for more than a decade. The finding: The people with lean and muscular arms were the least likely to die over the study period, no matter how old they were. 

Here are all the ways dosing iron can help you live longer and better.

It Bulletproofs Your Body 

When you think of osteoporosis—the loss of bone density—you probably envision sweet old ladies with canes. But the condition is becoming a significant issue for men, according to the NIH. And because doctors aren’t testing us for it, we often don’t realize we have an issue with bone loss until we fall and fracture something. 

The best way to stop and even reverse bone loss is to lift weights or, according to Robert Wermers, a bone disease specialist with the Mayo Clinic, to do “aerobic walking where you’re bearing weight.” Walk with a weighted pack or weight vest. One study found that aging people who trained with a weight vest ended up with denser bones than those who didn’t. 

Start by loading a pack with 10 percent of your bodyweight. Now go for a walk. Slowly ramp up the weight until you’re walking with between 20 and 25 percent of your bodyweight.  

Get Your Sugar in Check

About 44 percent of Gen-X men are prediabetic, according to the CDC. But having more lean muscle mass can help keep blood sugar levels in check. That’s because people with more muscle mass are better able to process sugar, which can fend off diabetes, according to UCLA scientists.

Focus on your biggest muscles, with lower body strength exercises that work your glutes, quads, and hamstrings. Try Bulgarian split squats. Hold a light dumbbell in each hand while facing away from a bench. Rest your left foot on the bench so your leg is behind you. Slowly lower yourself with your right leg. At the bottom of the move, your right leg should have a slight bend at your knee. Now press back up. That’s one rep. Do 10 then switch legs and repeat. Do three sets. 

Cling to Life

Scientists in Korea analyzed the health and handgrip strength data of nearly 10,000 people, and found that people with the strongest grips were the least likely to get sick and die.

But don’t take this as a reason to skip the gym and sit around watching TV as you squeeze a grip trainer. Try suitcase carries, where you hold a heavy dumbbell in one hand and walk with it. Do three sets of 100 steps on each side.

Avoid a Widow Maker

Statistically, cardiovascular disease is what’s most likely to kill you. And so, another reason to hit the weights: People who did 30 minutes of strength training a week and any amount of aerobic exercise (really … any) were 46 percent less likely to die of heart disease.

That’s one of the big reasons those Chinese researchers found so much power in strong arms. To build your own, you should go beyond your standard dumbbell biceps curls. Also do hammer curls and triceps pressdowns during your workouts. The hammer curls will hit different areas of your biceps (not to mention leading you to do twice the amount of biceps work). The pressdowns, meanwhile, will work your triceps, which account for a greater volume of your arm than do your biceps. Do each for 3 sets of 15 reps.