According to a new study from Penn State College of Medicine, anaerobic exercise, particularly in later life, may be the secret to longevity.
The fact that physically active older adults have a better quality of life and lower risk of mortality is not news. But whilst the health benefits of physical activity and aerobic exercise are well known, less research has been done on anaerobic exercise, until now.
This is likely because the recommended guidelines for strength training are newer than those for cardio. It was only in 2007 that the American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association released a joint guideline recommending all adults include two strength sessions a week into their exercise routine.
This new, 15 year long study looked at the exercise habits of people aged 65 or older. Only 10% of the group surveyed did any kind of strength training, but that tiny minority was a whopping 46% less likely to die during the study than the rest of the group. To put that into context, nearly a third of the group was dead by the end of the study. They were also 41 percent less likely to have a cardiac-related death and 19 percent less likely to die from cancer.
Although lifting weights is only one component of a healthy and active lifestyle, strength training alone was linked to a 19% reduced risk of early death. This was after adjusting for BMI, total physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption and chronic conditions like diabetes.
Older adults who met strength-training guidelines were, on average, slightly younger, and were more likely to be married white males with higher levels of education. They were also more likely to have normal body weight, to engage in aerobic exercise and to abstain from alcohol and tobacco.
The key benefit of weight lifting is that it not only strengthens the muscles but also increases bone density, which is lost naturally with age, and improves balance and stamina. This reduces the risk of falls and fractures, which can cause major problems in old age. Not to mention it keeps you active and raises metabolism, which contribute overall to better health and maintaining a healthy weight.
"We need to identify more ways that we can help get people engaged in strength training so we can increase the number from just under 10 percent to a much higher percentage of our older adults who are engaged in these activities," said Jennifer L. Kraschnewski, assistant professor of medicine and public health sciences at the Penn State College of Medicine. "[10%] is only a small fraction of the population, but it's actually higher than we had anticipated.”