Regular weight-bearing exercise is linked to a lower risk of death from any cause except cancer, according to research in older adults published online in British Journal of Sports Medicine.
And making sure a weekly exercise routine includes both weights and aerobic activity appears to have an additive effect, the results suggest.
Current physical activity guidelines for all adults recommend at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or a minimum of 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equal combination of the two; activity).
All adults are also encouraged to incorporate activities that work the major muscle groups. However, while aerobic exercise is consistently associated with a lower risk of death, it is unclear whether weight training can have similar effects.
In an attempt to close this knowledge gap, the researchers set out to separately and jointly assess the potential impact of weight-bearing exercise and aerobic activity on the risk of death among older adults.
They were based on participants from the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Trial. This began in 1993 and includes 154,897 men and women aged 55 to 74 years from 10 different cancer centers in the United States.
In 2006, 104,002 participants were asked if they had exercised with weights in the past year and, if so, how often, ranging from less than once a month to several times a week .
And they were asked about the frequency and duration of moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity in the past year.
Moderate intensity was defined as “an activity in which you sweat lightly or increase your breathing and heart rate to moderately high levels” and vigorous activity as “an activity intense enough to cause you to sweat or increase your breathing and heart rate at very high levels.” ‘.
Four activity groups were generated based on total weekly minutes of MVPA: (1) inactive, 0 minutes; (2) insufficient aerobic MVPA, 1–149 minutes; (3) more than 150 sufficient minutes of moderate activity or an equivalent amount of vigorous activity; and (4) very active, 301 or more minutes of moderate activity or an equivalent amount of vigorous activity.
In total, responses from 99,713 people were included in the final analysis, 28,477 of whom died during an average of 9.5 years of follow-up. Their mean age at the start of the follow-up period was 71 years and mean weight (BMI) was 27.8 kg/m2 which is defined as overweight.
Almost 1 in 4 (23%) respondents reported some weight lifting activity; 16% said they regularly exercised with weights between one and six times a week. Almost a third (32%) were sufficiently aerobically active, meeting (24%) or exceeding (8%) MVPA guidelines.
Weight-bearing exercise and aerobic MVPA were independently associated with a lower risk of death from any cause as well as cardiovascular disease, but not cancer.
Overall, weight training in the absence of MVPA was associated with a 9–22% lower risk of death, depending on the amount: for example, using weights once or twice a week was associated with a less than 14% risk.
Similarly, among those who did not exercise with weights, aerobic MVPA was associated with a 24–34% lower risk of death from any cause, compared with those who reported neither MVPA nor exercise with weights.
But the lowest risk of death was seen among those who said they did both types of physical activity.
For example, the risk of death was 41-47% lower among those who said they met the most recommended weekly levels of MVPA and exercised with weights once or twice a week than among those who were physically inactive.
Educational attainment, smoking, BMI, race, and ethnicity did not significantly change the observed associations, but sex did: the associations were stronger in women.
This is an observational study and as such cannot establish cause, plus it was based on personal recall and included data from a single point in time. Specific details about training intensity, training load, volume (sets and repetitions), and how long participants had been weight training were not available, all of which could have influenced the findings.
The study focused only on weights, but there are other types of muscle-strengthening exercises, the researchers say, citing calisthenics, which include push-ups and squats; Pilates; and plyometric exercises, including tuck jumps and burpees.
Using weights can make a body leaner: Total lean mass is independently associated with a lower risk of death, the researchers say in an explanation of their findings. And if it’s done in a gym, it could also be very sociable, another factor associated with a longer, healthier life.
“Our finding that mortality risk appeared to be lower for those who participated in both types of exercise provides strong support for current recommendations to engage in aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities,” they write.
“Older adults will likely benefit from adding weight-lifting exercises to their physical activity routines,” they conclude.
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“Independent and Joint Associations of Weight Lifting and Aerobic Activity with All-Cause, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer Mortality in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial” by Charles E Matthews et al. British Journal of Sports Medicine
Independent and Joint Associations of Weight Lifting and Aerobic Activity with All-Cause, Cardiovascular Disease, and Cancer Mortality in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial
Both moderate-to-vigorous aerobic physical activity (MVPA) and muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE) are recommended, but the mortality benefits of weightlifting, a specific type of MSE, are limited.
In the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal, and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial, we used Cox proportional hazards regression to calculate hazard ratios (HRs) and 95% CIs for associations between raising weights and mortality, adjusting for demographics, lifestyle, and behavioral risk factors. The sample included 99,713 adults who completed the follow-up questionnaire assessing weight lifting and who were subsequently followed up to 2016 for mortality (median 9, IQR 7.6–10.6 years).
Median age at follow-up questionnaire was 71.3 (IQR 66–76) years, 52.6% female, with a mean body mass index of 27.8 (SD 4.9) kg/m2. Weight lifting was associated with a 9% lower risk of all-cause mortality (HR = 0.91 (95% CI 0.88 to 0.94)) and CVD mortality (0.91 (95% CI 0.86 to 0.97)) after adjusting for MVPA. Pooled models revealed that adults who met aerobic MVPA recommendations but did not lift weights had a 32% lower risk of all-cause mortality (HR = 0.68 (95% CI: 0 .65 to .70)), while those who also reported lifting weights 1-2 times per week. had a 41% lower risk (HR = 0.59 (95% CI 0.54 to 0.64)), both compared with adults who reported no aerobic MVPA or weightlifting . Without adjustment for MVPA, weight lifting was associated with lower cancer mortality (HR = 0.85 (95% CI: 0.80 to 0.91)).
Weight lifting and MVPA were associated with a lower risk of all-cause and CVD mortality, but not cancer mortality. Adults who met the recommended amounts of both types of exercise appeared to gain additional benefits.