Combining weight training with aerobic exercise (cardio) is linked to greater longevity than either form of physical activity by itself, according to a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
Weight training is a specific category of strength training, also known as resistance training, using weights for resistance. Other forms of strength training use other forms of resistance to build muscle strength, such as your own body weight or resistance bands. Strength training may have many benefits for people with diabetes, including lower blood glucose levels and improved balance and agility. These benefits may be particularly strong in older people, helping to counteract the typical loss of muscle mass and strength that comes with older age. Studies have shown that reduced muscle mass is linked to a higher risk for cardiovascular disease in people with type 2 diabetes, and that muscle strengthening activities are linked to a lower overall death risk.
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The latest study’s participants were 99,713 adults who completed a questionnaire on their exercise habits, then had health outcomes tracked for a median of nine years. At the time of the questionnaire, their average age was 71.3. The average body-mass index (BMI, a measure of body weight that takes height into account) of participants was 27.8, which falls in the “overweight” category. When looking at the relationship between physical activity and health outcomes, the researchers adjusted for demographic factors (like age and sex) as well as lifestyle and behavioral factors.
Weight training linked to lower death risk
The researchers found that weight training once or twice a week was linked to a 9% lower risk of dying from all causes during the follow-up period, as well as a 9% lower risk of dying from cardiovascular causes. This lower death risk from weight training was found to apply — in the same amount — to participants who also got regular aerobic exercise. Meeting aerobic exercise targets, but not doing any weight training, was linked to a 32% lower risk of dying from all causes. But when weight training was combined with aerobic exercise, there was a 41% lower risk of dying during the follow-up period.
Before adjusting for other lifestyle factors and demographic differences, weight training was linked to a 15% lower risk of dying from cancer, but this difference disappeared when those adjustments were made — highlighting the fact that people who get more exercise may also have other healthier habits, or other traits like a younger age, that reduce their death risk. No observational study can completely rule out these other factors playing a role in outcomes, but the researchers did their best to correct for factors other than physical activity in this study.
The researchers concluded that adding weight training to recommended levels of aerobic exercise appears to further reduce the risk of dying earlier — an especially important finding since most participants in this study were older adults, who stand to gain the most from any longevity benefits from weight training.