Regular weight training is linked to a lower risk of premature death, the largest study of its kind shows.
And making sure your weekly exercise routine includes weights as well as aerobic activity appears to have an even greater beneficial effect, researchers say. Their findings were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Adults are recommended to do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous activity.
In addition, they are encouraged to do “strengthening activities” at least two days a week that work the legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms.
Although aerobic exercise is consistently associated with a lower risk of early death, it was not clear until now whether weight training could have similar effects.
In an effort to close this knowledge gap, the researchers set out to explore the potential impact of weight training and aerobic activities on the risk of premature death in older adults.
Researchers led by academics from the US National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Maryland, examined data from nearly 100,000 adults who participated in a US screening study.
Participants, with an average age of 71, provided information about their weightlifting activity and other exercises they participated in.
About 23% reported lifting weights and 16% reported lifting weights at least one to six times a week.
Researchers considered nearly a third (32%) to be “sufficiently active,” with 24% meeting the aerobic activity guidelines and 8% exceeding them.
There were 28,477 deaths during the 9.6-year follow-up period.
The study found that adults who reported lifting weights had a 9% lower “all-cause mortality risk.” A similar observation was made for deaths from cardiovascular disease, but no association was found between strength training and cancer deaths.
Those who participated in “regular” weightlifting were found to have a 14% lower risk of death. Those who met aerobic activity levels had a 32% lower risk of premature death.
Adults who reported meeting aerobic activity guidelines and lifting weights at least once or twice a week were found to have a 41% to 47% lower risk of premature death.
The study focused only on weights, but there were other types of muscle-strengthening exercises, the researchers said, such as pushups (pressups), squats, Pilates, tuck jumps and burpees.
Using weights can make a body leaner: Total lean body mass is independently associated with a lower risk of premature death, the researchers explained. And when done in a gym, it can also be very social — another factor linked to a longer, healthier life.
“Our finding that the mortality risk appears to be lowest for those who participated in both types of exercise provides strong support for current recommendations to participate in both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities,” the authors wrote. “Older adults would likely benefit from adding weight lifting exercises to their physical activity routines,” they concluded.
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