Why lifting weights could be vital for a longer life

Need a reason to start lifting weights or doing pilates? New research suggests you can extend your lifespan by doing resistance training.

We all know that regular exercise has a myriad of physical and mental health benefits, from sleeping better to improving gut health, culminating in the best side effect of all: it helps us to live longer. 

    According to a Harvard Medical School paper “research dating back to the late 1980s has consistently shown that aerobic fitness may help extend lives” and the NHS currently recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate activity per week for everyone or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise if you’re already pretty fit.

    It is also well-established that strength training in particular has a host of benefits, and similarly,the NHS recommends that all adults over the age of 35 do muscle-strengthening activities at least two days a week.

    But until recently, little research had been done on the mortality benefits of lifting weights. 

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    Can weightlifting help us live longer?

    There’s good news, as new research shows that the combination of strength training and cardio is the gold-standard life-prolonging regime.

    A US study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, shows that while people who take the recommended 150 minutes of exercise lived longer than those who didn’t, crucially, the participants who combined their aerobic activity with muscle-strengthening workouts once or twice a week showed a dramatic reduction in morbidity.

    These people showed a 47% reduction in death from any cause apart from cancer, over the next nine years, compared with their sedentary counterparts. Strength training alone reduced the risk of death by up to 9-22%, while cardio decreased it by 24-34%.

    Interestingly, the study also found that women benefitted from strength training more than men.

    It doesn’t have to be complicated

    So, what’s the best way to incorporate some strength training into your regime? The good news is you don’t have to shell out a fortune on adjustable dumbells or spend hours pumping iron in the gym to reap the benefits.

    DC Lee, associate professor of kinesiology and co-author of a 2018 study by Iowa State University, previously told Stylist:

    “People may think they need to spend a lot of time lifting weights, but just two sets of bench presses that take less than five minutes could be effective.”

    And it is great news for gym-phobes, as according to the NHS, activities such as heavy gardening, Pilates and even carrying heavy shopping bags count as muscle-strengthening pastimes. So rather than driving to the supermarket, for example, you could try walking: the combination of cardio and carrying your groceries home (weights) is a double win. 

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    Something is always better than nothing

    As with any type of regime, it’s super important to find an activity that you enjoy, as this will keep you motivated to carry on.

    Fitness expert and founder of MADE On Demand, Penny Weston says:

    “We are fortunate enough to live in an age where there are so many choices available when it comes to exercise, so find your passion! We’re all so different, and have varied likes and dislikes, so you might enjoy walking with a friend in the evenings or signing up for a class in the morning. Once you find a type of exercise you enjoy, the motivation and routine will come more easily.”

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    It’s never too late to start

    Whilst the research is aimed at the over-65s, given that we all have a vested interest in living longer, the sooner you start to follow the advice, the more benefits you’ll notice.

    It’s commonly accepted that we reach peak physical strength in our 20s, relatively early in our (hopefully) long lives. By our 40s, muscle mass starts to decrease across the board, but it doesn’t take long to switch things up. Even people who have never lifted weights before can slow or reverse that decline. A study of 57 adults aged 65–94 showed that performing resistance exercises like leg presses three times per week increased muscle strength over just 12 weeks.

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    So the upshot is that even if you struggle to motivate yourself to work out in a more traditional way (running, cycling, weight training) all is not lost. And on that note, I’m off to the high street for some NHS-approved heavy shopping. 

    Images: Getty

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