Sweat It Out

New Study Links Weightlifting With Longevity, Lower Risk Of Death

A new study finds the key to longevity isn’t just hitting the treadmill.

Originally Published: 
A man lifting dumbbells on a bench.
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The importance of regular cardio training in relation to overall fitness and longevity is well-known, but experts have come to believe that strength training also plays a vital role in living a longer, healthier life. That’s right — go pick up those dumbbells!

According to new research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM), one to two weekly strength training sessions is associated with a lower risk of death than cardio workouts alone.

For the study, researchers from the University of Minnesota and Brigham Young University explored data compiled for the National Health Interview Survey from 416,420 adult Americans from 1997 until 2014. Participants completed questionnaires regarding the type, length, and difficulty of physical activity they engage in, plus specific questions regarding the frequency of strength training exercise.

As expected, those who reported cardio exercise were less likely to die over the survey’s time period than those who did not — one hour per week of moderate to vigorous cardio resulted in a 15% lower chance of death. Those who reported three hours of cardio per week were 27% less likely to die during the study period.

Subjects who reported one to two strength training sessions per week had a shocking 40% lower mortality rate than those who reported no exercise. Researchers compared the difference to being a half a pack per day smoker and a non-smoker in terms of longevity.

"We found that just 1-3 hours per week of moderate exercise — brisk walking and/or vigorous aerobic exercise such as [high intensity interval training] training — and just 1-2 times per week of strength exercise substantially reduced the risk of death by all-causes,” study co-author and researcher at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health Daniel J. McDonough told the Washington Post.

Research on the benefits of strength training is relatively slim compared to cardio because, according to one study author, people just don’t do it very much. Only 24% of survey respondents reported regular muscle-strengthening activities, compared to 63% who reported cardio workouts. “Even with huge cohorts like we had here, the numbers are still relatively small,” study co-author Arden Pope, a Brigham Young University economist, told the New York Times.

A review study by Japanese researchers, also published in the BJSM, echoed the research team’s new findings: Muscle-strengthening exercises were associated with a 10% to 17% lower risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and diabetes in adults.

Muscle strength or increased muscle mass has also been associated with a lower risk of cognitive decline as we age and reduced risk of disability and chronic disease due to inactivity in seniors.

More research is needed, but experts recommend one to two muscle-strengthening exercise sessions per week, using weights or body weight as a strengthening medium, to increase fitness levels and improve health.

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