Adding regular strength training to your exercise routine may not only make you stronger, but let you live longer, too, researchers in Japan report.
Their new study says 30 to 60 minutes a week of muscle strengthening may reduce your risk of dying early from any cause, and from heart and blood vessel disease, diabetes or cancer by up to 20%.
"Doing muscle-strengthening activities has a health benefit independent of aerobic activities," said lead researcher Haruki Momma, a lecturer in medicine and science in sports and exercise at Tohoku University Graduate School of Medicine in Sendai.
Strengthening exercises include lifting weights, using resistance bands and doing pushups, situps and squats. It can also include heavy gardening, such as digging and shoveling, researchers said.
"Although several physical activity guidelines recommend that adults perform muscle-strengthening activities based on musculoskeletal health benefits, our findings support this recommendation in terms of preventing premature death and major chronic diseases," Momma said. "Also, our findings suggest that optimal doses of muscle-strengthening activities for the prevention of all-cause death, cardiovascular and cancer may exist."
For the study, Momma and his colleagues pooled data from 16 published studies. The studies, which included both men and women, ranged in size from nearly 4,000 participants to almost 480,000.
The analysis found that muscle strengthening was linked with a 10% to 17% lower risk of premature death from any cause, as well as from heart and blood vessel disease, stroke, diabetes, lung cancer and cancer as a whole.
They found no link between muscle strengthening and any reduced risk of colon, kidney, bladder or pancreatic cancer.
The greatest benefit was seen when strength training was done up to an hour a week.
But more wasn't necessarily better. After 60 minutes of strengthening exercise in a week, no further benefit in preventing premature death was seen.
Even better than strength training alone was combining it with aerobic exercise. (Aerobic exercises include swimming, cycling, walking and rowing.)
The combo reduced the risk of dying prematurely from any cause by 40%; heart and blood vessel disease by 46%, and cancer by 28%, the researchers found.
The findings were published online Feb. 28 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Dr. Russell Camhi, a sports medicine specialist at Northwell Health in Great Neck, N.Y., reviewed the new study.
"There's good evidence that people should be incorporating strength training as part of their workout regimen," Camhi said.
For men, strength training increases testosterone. For both men and women, it helps keep bone density up and decreases the risk of falls and fractures, he said.
"Strength training has also been shown to help with mental health and mood," Camhi said. "There's a lot of benefits that come from the muscular system being activated."
Camhi recommends starting with weight-bearing exercise and gradually working up to using weights or other equipment. Weight-bearing exercises include walking, dancing and stair-climbing.
"Start with simple weight-bearing exercise, and then start adding in small weights as tolerated," Camhi advised.
"You don't want to go into strength training too quickly, because that can lead to some overuse and sometimes injury if not done correctly," he added.
Camhi noted that videos and other instructional materials are easy to find online, and classes and personal trainers can also get you going.
It's never too late to start a strength-training regimen, he said.
"There's always benefits that can be gained. We cannot always undo all the loss from chronic disease, but there's always benefit that can be gained from exercise," Camhi said.