Half an hour of this type of exercise every week can extend your life

Weekly muscle-strengthening activity enhances flexibility and mobility and is associated with lower risk of mortality, new study finds

Woman doing exercise at home (photo credit: INGIMAGE)
Woman doing exercise at home
(photo credit: INGIMAGE)

If you want to prolong your life, it turns out that there are simple exercises which are recommended you do and the bonus is that you need to do very little of them every week.

We’ve been told that in order to benefit from exercise, we need to do it every day. But a new study that included a review of 16 different studies examining how muscle-strengthening exercises affect mortality from all causes found that it was far less effort than you might think.

No need to spend every day in the gym

The review, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, showed that between 30 and 60 minutes of weekly muscle-strengthening activity enhances flexibility and mobility, and that doesn’t need to include weightlifting or push-ups. This form of exercise is associated with a 10-17% lower risk of mortality from all causes, including cardiovascular disease, lung cancer and diabetes. This strengthening activity didn’t seem to lower the risk of some specific cancers such as colon, kidney, bladder and pancreatic cancers.

Data showed that the benefit of muscle work tends to diminish beyond the 60-minute mark, so working out daily at the gym won’t reduce your chances of dying early with conditions like diabetes. The analysis showed that the highest risk reduction was 60 minutes a week. Data also indicated that the combination of aerobic activity and muscle work was also quite good, reducing the risk of death from vascular disease by 46%, from cancer by 28% and in general by 40%.

The meta-analysis included studies with many participants, with between 4000 and almost 480,000 participants per study. The age range was from 18 to 97. Twelve studies included men and women, two included only men and three included only women. Each study included aerobic or other physical activity along with muscle strength training.

Israelis exercise at the Sky gym club of Rav Chen  in Jerusalem on May 12, 2020. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)Israelis exercise at the Sky gym club of Rav Chen in Jerusalem on May 12, 2020. (credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

How definitive is the study?

The earliest study was from 2012 and the longest follow-up of participants was for 25 years. Most of the studies were from the United States, and the rest from England, Scotland, Australia and Japan. One limitation of the results is that they might not be widely applicable. Studies are also observational studies, not clinical trials; they relied on a subjective assessment of muscle-strengthening activities.

The combination of muscle strengthening and aerobic exercise may provide a greater benefit in reducing all causes of premature death, cardiovascular disease and overall mortality from cancer. The study authors concluded that with the limited data available, more studies are needed such as those focusing on a more diverse population in order to increase the reliability of the evidence.

Exercise to strengthen muscles, plus aerobic work has long been associated with a lower risk of death. The study doesn’t show what the optimal amount is, but provides some indication that even a relatively short time devoted to it may have significant health benefits in the long run.