This blog first appeared on: Pumping weights could help you live longer – BBC News Author: Philippa Roxby

Activities which strengthen the muscles – like weightlifting – should be part of an older person’s weekly exercise routine, a study suggests.

People doing both aerobic and muscle exercises were more likely to live longer than those who did just one or the other, US researchers found.

But you don’t have to go to the gym – carrying heavy shopping bags, digging in the garden and pilates all count.

Both types of activity are recommended in current advice.

The NHS advises adults over 65 to be physically active every day and do activities to improve strength, balance and flexibility at least twice a week.

It also recommends at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity if you are already active.

Muscle matters

Getting the heart rate up on a regular basis is known to make people fitter and healthier, and help prolong their lives.

But less is known about the effects of weightlifting or muscle-strengthening exercises on how long people live.

The US study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, asked more than 150,000 people in their 60s and 70s about their exercise routine then followed them up.

The researchers found that people who took the recommended 150 minutes of moderate exercise a week lived longer than those who didn’t – but those who combined regular aerobic exercise with muscle-strengthening activities once or twice a week fared even better.

They had a 47% lower risk of dying from any cause, apart from cancer, over the next nine years – than those who were not active at all.

Doing weightlifting alone lowered the risk by up to 9-22% and aerobic exercise by 24-34%.

Examples of aerobic exercise, which gets the heart and lungs pumping, include brisk walking, running, cycling and swimming.

The study also found that women benefitted more from weightlifting than men.

The research team, from the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, and the University of Iowa, explained that muscle-strengthening exercises could make the body leaner and the bones stronger, leading to a healthier life in old age.

“Our finding that mortality risk appeared to be lowest for those who participated in both types of exercise provides strong support for current recommendations to engage in both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities,” said study author Dr Jessica Gorzelitz.

“Older adults would probably benefit from adding weightlifting exercises to their physical activity routines.”

Their study focused only on weights, but the researchers say other types of exercise would also apply such as push-ups, squats, burpees and pilates.

According to the NHS, muscle-strengthening activities can include:

  • carrying heavy shopping bags
  • yoga
  • pilates
  • tai chi
  • lifting weights
  • working with resistance bands
  • doing exercises that use your own body weight, such as push-ups and sit-ups
  • heavy gardening, such as digging and shovelling

The study, although large, was observational and could not prove that it was the weightlifting that led to people living longer. It also relied on participants remembering how much exercise they had done over the past year at one single point.

However, the researchers did try to remove other factors which might have had an influence on the outcome, such as education, race, ethnicity and race, but still found the same result.