Researchers have been looking for ways to extend life, and they found that older adults who participated in weightlifting had lower mortality rates. This is exactly what their new research discovered: there are longevity benefits to be made simply by pumping iron. This holds especially true for women.
Is building muscles really important when we want to live longer? According to new research, this may very well be true. When they investigated on this matter, they saw how lifting weights on a regular basis was linked to a lower risk of death, and this is true for any cause. The only exception on the list is cancer. The details of their findings were published online on September 27 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
“Older adults who participated in weight lifting exercise had significantly lower mortality before and after factoring in aerobic exercise participation, and importantly, those who did both types of exercise had the lowest risk,” study lead author, Jessica Gorzelitz, PhD, said. She’s a researcher in the division of cancer epidemiology and genetics at the National Cancer Institute, and assistant professor of health promotion at the University of Iowa in Iowa City. The findings they made proved to be strong when it comes to proving the current Physical Activity Guidelines for U.S. adults, she noted.
Activity Guidelines Push for a Kind of Strength Training
There are current guidelines made on physical activity for all adults. The experts recommend at least 150 weekly minutes of moderate intensity aerobic activity, or at least 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity, or an equal mix of both. The latter is often referred to as MVPA (moderate to vigorous physical activity).
While aerobic exercises are important, the guidelines set also included two or more days of strengthening activities that incorporate the body’s major muscle groups. This means that the legs, hips, back, abdomen chest, shoulders, and arms are included.
Aerobic exercise is also called “cardio.” This comes with a myriad of health benefits. Included here are lower risk of heart disease, better blood sugar control blood, and decreased risk of death. Still, it remains unclear of exercising with weights may help extend life, this is according to the authors.
Almost 1 in 4 in the Group Reported Doing Weightlifts on a Regular Basis
The researchers needed to evaluate how exercising with weights could impact health. This can be done with or without regular aerobic exercise. In order to do so, researchers recruited participants from the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial. This started in 1993 and included 154,897 men and women from the ages 55 to 74. They came from a total of 10 different U.S. cancer centers.
For the final analysis made, they had a total of 99,713 people. As for the percentage, 53 percent of them were female; 91.4 percent were white, 3.3 percent black, 1.4 percent Hispanic, and 3.9 percent came from other races or they hadn’t been identified.
As for their average age when they began the monitoring period, it was 71 years old. As for the average BMI (body mass index), it was 27.8. For those unfamiliar with how this works, a BMI of 18.5 to 24.9 is a healthy weight. A 25 to 29.9 is overweight. This was per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines. For those who have readings of 30 and above are said to be obese.
The participants were also asked if their exercise regimen over the last year included weights, and if it was a yes, how often did they do this. The answers they got were varied: from less than once a month to several times each week.
The questionnaire included the frequency and duration of moderate and vigorous intensity when it came to physical activities in the last year. Moderate was described as “activity where you worked up a light sweat or increased your breathing and heart rate to moderately high levels,” and vigorous was an “activity strenuous enough to work up a sweat or increase your breathing and heart rate to very high levels.”
Researchers then grouped these participants into 1 of 4 categories. This was based on total weekly minutes of MVPA: 1. Inactive, 0 minutes; 2. Insufficient aerobic MVPA, 1 to 149 minutes; 3. Sufficient, 150 minutes to 300 minutes of moderate, or an equivalent amount of vigorous, activity; and 4. Highly active, 301 or more minutes of moderate, or something tantamount to a vigorous activity.
Almost 1 in 4, or around 23 percent, of them said that they lifted weights at times and 16 percent reported that they exercised using weights on a regular basis. This meant that they did it around one to six times weekly. Around 1 in 3 people, or 32 percent, of them were able to fulfill the guidelines set. The other 8 percent went beyond. This means that the letter exercised more than five hours weekly on MVPA.
Lower Death Risks for Those Who Exercised and Weightlifted
They followed up with the participants during the next 9.5 years. A total of 28,477 of them passed away. Researchers were able to establish the relationships between weight lifting, aerobic activity, and risk of death:
- Using weights and aerobic MVPA were both independently linked to a lower risk of death that stemmed from any cause. This included cardiovascular diseases. Not found on the list is cancer.
- Generally, exercising using weights without aerobic MVPA was linked to a 9 to 22 percent lower death risk. This was dependent on the amount. For instance, weightlifting at least once or twice weekly was linked to a 14 percent lower risk.
- In those who didn’t weightlift at all, aerobic MVPA was linked to a 24 to 34 percent lower risk of death from any cause. They put this side by side with those who said that they engaged in neither MVPA nor weightlifting.
- The lowest risk was observed in the group that engaged in both types of physical exerices. The risk of death was around 41 to 47 percent lower whose who did the most recommended weekly levels of MVPA and also weightlifted once or twice weekly.
Researchers had the same findings after they controlled the several factors such as education level, smoking, BMI, race and ethnicity, with one not included: sex. The connection between weightlifting, aerobic exercise, and early death were higher for the females.
The findings supported the current recommendations that doctors have made when it comes to doing both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities, the authors said.
Lifting Weights and Extending Life Expectancy
Dr. Gorzelitz acknowledged the fact that some might question why weight lifting, sand aerobic exercising, may help extend life.
“We know that muscle strengthening exercise is associated with a wide range of health benefits, which include increased strength and better physical function. We are still learning about the metabolic effects of weight lifting on bodily systems that may affect mortality risk, but we do know that this type of exercise can have a beneficial effect on body composition and other metabolic risk factors, such as blood pressure, inflammation markers and even blood cholesterol,” she stated.
The amount of muscle mass will have an impact on metabolism, as per the Cleveland Clinic. Becaise it takes more energy and calories to build and maintain muscles as opposed to fat. The more muscles you have, the better your body is at burning calories.
Small Amounts of Weightlifting Will Reap Benefits
These findings saw that adding weightlifting to the regular routine, will benefit you when it comes to health and longevity, even for those who are aerobically active, said Gorzelits.
If weight lifting overwhelms or intimidates you or if you’re not sure how to start it, Gorzelitz said that baby steps are okay. “Our results suggest that some is better than none, and it’s okay to get started slowly and progress as strength and confidence increases.”
Researchers Want to Confirm the Same for a More Diverse Group
The authors are aware of the limitations found in the study. First of all, it was observational. This meant that the results don’t prove that weightlifting or physical activity extended life expectancy. The researchers were also dependent on personal recall of strength training and exercise. The participants had to rely specific details on training intensity, training load, volume (sets and repetitions), and the duration of the exercise with weights. These weren’t available nor part of the analysis.
The study honed in on weights, but the authors also are aware that there are several other ways to strengthen the body’s muscles. This is including isometric exercises or use of body weight. A few examples would be push-ups and squats, Pilates, and plyometric exercises like tuck jumps and burpees.
Future studies made need to look into more detailed tests in terms of weightlifting, going above duration or frequency weekly, shared Gorzelitz. “My goal is to replicate these findings in more diverse populations to ensure results apply broadly, and this includes testing in clinical populations that may benefit, such as cancer survivors,” she said.
“As we advance our understanding, we can continue to refine our ability to implement safe, effective, and scalable interventions for both strengthening and aerobic exercises broadly so that all adults are able to achieve and maintain levels of activity recommended by the Physical Activity Guidelines,” she explained.