Combining 30-60 minutes of strengthening exercise with any amount of aerobic activity enhanced benefits, resulting in a 40% reduction in the risk of premature death, a 46% decrease in disease incidence heart disease and a 28% reduction in the risk of dying from cancer. The research is also the first to examine long-term links between muscle-building activities and diabetes risk, the authors said.
“Many previous studies have shown a favorable influence of muscle-strengthening exercises on non-communicable diseases and the risk of early death,” said study first author Haruki Momma, a senior lecturer in the Department of Medicine and Health. Sport and Exercise Science at Tohoku University in Japan, via email. “We could expect our findings to some extent because this study was planned to integrate previous findings.”
The new research is an analysis of 16 previous studies, which represented a pool of data from nearly 480,000 study participants. They were between 18 and 98 years old and most were based in the United States. Participants either self-reported their engagement in muscle-strengthening activities or answered questions during interviews.
“The study methods are sound and the results are important, but not surprising to me,” said Dr. William Roberts, a professor in the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health at the University of Minnesota, via email. He did not participate in the study. Thirty to “60 minutes a week seems like a doable amount for most people and makes me feel good about the 5-15 minutes of strength training I do every morning.”
The results are “great news for active people and bigger news for those who are inactive because they can improve their health with a small investment of time,” added Roberts, former president and current fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine. . “That said, people should start slow and build slowly to avoid the pain of doing too much too soon.”
Important note: If you feel pain while exercising, stop immediately. Consult your physician before beginning any new exercise program.
How Strength Manages Health Risks
The new research did not explore why strength training is so effective in reducing the risk of premature death and certain diseases. But this type of exercise is important for reducing body fat and building lean muscle mass, which can help with balance, posture and cholesterol regulation, said Dr. Nieca Goldberg, medical director of Atria New York City and Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine. Goldberg was not involved in the study.
“We know that obese people are at increased risk for cardiovascular disease, glucose intolerance, and certain cancers, so improving that (health) profile is beneficial,” Goldberg said. Additionally, “people who participate in regular activities…may also have healthier vision and lead other healthy lifestyles.”
The biggest benefit of mixing aerobics with strengthening exercises might be because the two “seem to work together and help each other get better results,” Roberts said. “A balanced program of strength and aerobic activity is probably best and probably most closely mimics the activities of our ancestors, which helped determine our current gene sets.”
Most participants did not benefit from the strengthening exercises for more than an hour, but the research did not examine why this was the case.
However, results from previous studies have varied, Roberts said: Some have shown improved health at higher activity levels.
“It’s pool data, which means it’s multiple studies put together. So when you do a study with a lot of people, you can measure other variables that could potentially cause (the worst result beyond 60 minutes),” Goldberg said. “We can’t explain it based on this study. Further studies will need to be done.”
Overall, the main takeaway is to get active and stay active with an exercise program you like and can stick with, Roberts and Goldberg said.
“You don’t need to train for the marathon to be healthy and improve your health,” Roberts added via email. “A combination of 5-10 minutes of strength training and 30 minutes of walking most days of the week will yield great health benefits for the population.”