This article was written by Jodi Helmer and originally appeared on myfitnesspal.com
If you leave the gym without hitting the weight room, it could impact the number of candles on your birthday cake.
Several studies have found a correlation between strength training and lifespan. The latest, a 2018 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association found women with an average age of 62 who spent up to 145 minutes per week engaged in strength training activities were less likely to die from cardiovascular disease and any other cause during the 12-year study period.
It’s the latest in a growing body of research highlighting the importance of strength training in addition to cardiovascular exercise. Much of the research has focused on older adults but a 2018 study followed more than 80,000 adults over age 30 and found combining strength training with aerobic exercise helped reduce the risk of premature death by 23% compared with aerobic exercise on its own.
Despite several studies showing clear connections, Kate Duchowny, PhD, MPH, a postdoctoral scholar at the University of California San Francisco, whose research was published in The Journals of Gerontology, found people with low muscle strength were 50% more likely to die earlier, admits that how strength training impacts lifespan is unclear. She suspects lack of muscle strength leads you to become more sedentary, which increases the risk of chronic disease and death.
“Being active means using your muscles — and maintaining muscle strength throughout your life can help you live longer,” Duchowny says. “It’s a powerful finding.”
The information is especially important, according to Duchowny, because age-related muscle loss starts in your 30s and accelerates in your 50s, so it’s important to start building muscle earlier in life and maintaining strength into old age. The U.S. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends engaging in moderate- to high-intensity strength training activities involving all major muscle groups at least two days per week.
Here are three important things to know about strength training:
IT'S NOT ALL ABOUT PUMPING IRON
Yes, lifting weights is one way to build strength but Duchowny notes, “Activities of daily living like climbing stairs and picking up groceries count as strength training.” In fact, research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology showed exercises such as situps, pushups and lunges — are all strength training moves, which use your own bodyweight, no weight machines required.
YOU DON'T NEED TO LIFT HEAVY WEIGHTS
You don’t have to choose the heaviest weights on the rack to build strength. Research published in the Journal of Applied Physiology found that doing 20–25 reps with lighter weights (about 50% of your one-rep max) was just as efficient for building strength as doing 8–12 reps with heavier weights.
“Lifting lighter weights trains the endurance capabilities of the muscle fibers, [improving] your ability to perform daily activities as well as improving sports performance,” says Tom Holland, MS, certified strength and conditioning specialist, exercise physiologist and author of “Beat the Gym.”
Holland advises beginners to start with lighter weights to learn proper technique, decrease the risk of injuries and improve strength.
IT'S NEVER TOO LATE TO START
You’re never too old to start strength training, according to Holland, who points to research showing a group of nursing home residents aged 77 and older who started a strength training program improved their muscle strength up to 108% after just eight weeks.
“Numerous studies show dramatic increases in strength in people who start strength training for the first time in their 70s and beyond,” he says.
Duchowny believes strength training can be an important part of preventive medicine and advises, “If you’re not already doing some form of strength training, start now; it should be a regular part of your exercise routine.”