Could Being Too Muscular Pose Health Risks?

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I used to be irritated by the idea of using BMI (body mass index) as a way to gauge health.

Throughout my 20’s I was around 220 pounds at 6’3″.

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This put my BMI at 27.5.

At that BMI I was considered overweight (anything over 25 is overweight).

I had six pack abs, but was on my way to becoming obese according to the BMI chart.

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The problem I have with the BMI is that people who carry a good amount of muscle will be considered overweight or obese even if they have low body fat levels.

How can someone be considered overweight if they are lean?

This couple has very low body fat levels.

…but I bet they hit the overweight-to-obese category when it comes to BMI.

Here’s how to analyze your BMI number.

  • BMI below 18.5 is considered underweight
  • Normal BMI is between 18.5-24.9
  • BMI between 25-29.9 is considered overweight
  • Anything over 30 is considered obese

For me, at 6’3″ a normal BMI is definitely pretty darn light.

That is between 150 lbs – 199 lbs (I’m currently right around 200).

To put these numbers into perspective…

Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is 6’3″ and 260 pounds.

So he is the same height as me and about 60 pounds heavier.

According to the BMI charts, Dwayne Johnson has a BMI of 32.4 and is considered obese.

He certainly isn’t obese in the regular sense.

But it is possible that his high BMI is still unhealthy.

Let’s look at some of the research.

An extreme example is looking at the average lifespan of the professional bodybuilder.

I am sure most of us realize that bodybuilders compromise their health with steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

It’s actually worse than I thought.

A study published in 2016 looked at 1,578 professional male bodybuilders who competed between 1948 – 2014.

The professional bodybuilders’ mean age of death was 47.7 years.

Living to the age of 48 is a short life!

I do realize that professional bodybuilders are an extreme example.

What happens when we look at less extreme and more common levels of muscle mass.

The picture above is showing examples of extremely fit people who do not have pro bodybuilder levels of muscle.

They look like fitness competitors.

I’m guessing that both the man and the woman have BMIs above 25 (the woman could be less in this picture, but probably more than 25 before leaning down).

Would they be healthier with less muscle mass?

A 2016 study looked at 60,335 participants and took body fat percentage into account.

This study found that a high reading on FFMI (Fat Free Mass Index) was associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease mortality.

A high BMI had a higher mortality risk regardless of body fat percentage.

So large amounts of muscle mass could be unhealthy?

I do think there could be some flaws in the study.

They weren’t specifically examining lean individuals at specific BMIs versus people with the same BMIs who had more body fat.

This would be a more straightforward way of seeing the impact of BMI on lean muscular men and women.

I still think it is wise to be under a 25 BMI.

…but even that may not be ideal.

One of the largest studies found that even a 24.5 BMI may be risky for your health.

A study published in 2014 involving an analysis of 97 studies and 2.9 million individuals found that a BMI closer to 21 is healthier than 24.9.

Both are within the healthy range of BMI (18.5 – 24.9).

But…

A BMI of 24.9 was associated with 3-5 times the risk of type 2 diabetes compared to a BMI of 21.


A BMI of 21 is really light.

For me, at 6’3″ we are talking 168 pounds.

That is super skinny.

Also…

We do lose lean muscle as we age.

Maybe a good strategy is to be around 23-24 BMI when you are young and let it naturally decline a bit in your later years.

BMI and aging

This gives you wiggle room as you grow older.

If you are already at a low BMI of 19-20 at the age of 40, it’s possible that you will dip too low as you reach your 60’s, 70’s or 80’s.

I’m 50 and my personal goal is to hit a 23-24 BMI.

At 6’3″ this will put me somewhere around 190.

This is doable by summer.

Based on current research, we can’t assume that it is safe to be over a 25 BMI… even if body fat is low.

The 2016 studies addressed this.

I’m hoping this gets studied in even greater detail.

For now, my recommendation is to try to get your BMI down to 25.

"Visual Impact Kettlebells" - Home Workout Course
A kettlebell course we filmed on the beach in Costa Rica, aimed at helping you get slim and lean without adding bulk.

Even a bit lower is better if it is practical.

Cheers,

-Rusty Moore

As a former fitness coach to fashion models, I can teach you how to increase muscle definition without adding size.

Click Here to check out my premium courses.

Could Being Too Muscular Pose Health Risks?