Regular exercise with weights is linked to a lower risk of premature death, according to the largest study of its kind.
And making sure your weekly exercise routine includes both weights and aerobic activities appears to have an even greater beneficial effect, the researchers found. Their findings were published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Adults are encouraged to participate in at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity.
Additionally, they are encouraged to do “strengthening activities” that work the legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders, and arms at least two days a week.
While aerobic exercise is consistently associated with a lower risk of premature death, until now it was unclear whether weight training could have similar effects.
To fill this knowledge gap, researchers set out to assess the potential impact of exercise with weights 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 looked at data from nearly 100,000 adults participating in a US screening study.
The participants, with an average age of 71, gave information about their weightlifting activity and any other exercise in which they participated.
About 23% reported weightlifting and 16% reported weightlifting at least one to six times a week.
The researchers estimated that almost a third (32%) were “active enough”, with 24% meeting aerobic activity guidelines and 8% exceeding them.
During the 9.6-year follow-up period, there were 28,477 deaths.
The study found that adults who reported weightlifting had a 9% lower “all-cause mortality risk”. A similar observation was made for heart disease deaths, but no link was found between bodybuilding 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 and weight lifting guidelines at least once or twice a week had a 41% to 47% lower risk of premature death.
The study focused only on weights, but there were other types of muscle-building exercises, the researchers said, such as push-ups, squats, pilates, tucks 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 if done in a gym, it could also be very sociable – another factor associated with a longer and healthier life.
“Our finding that mortality risk appeared to be lowest for those who participated in both types of exercise strongly supports current recommendations to engage in aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities,” the authors wrote. “Older adults would likely benefit from adding weightlifting exercises to their physical activity routines,” they concluded.