Weight-bearing exercise is associated with a lower risk of death

Exercising is good for health. So far, everyone agrees. However, depending on the exercise, it can be better or worse for our body and the impact in the future.

A study conducted in older adults and published online in British Journal of Sports Medicine showed that regular weight-bearing exercise was associated with a lower risk of death from any cause except cancer. The results show that a weekly workout routine that includes both weights and aerobic activities seems to have an even better effect.

Current physical activity guidelines for all adults recommend a minimum 150 minutes per week moderate-intensity aerobic activity, or a minimum of 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or an equal combination of both, often referred to as moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA).

All adults are also encouraged to include activities that work all major muscle groups. However, although aerobic exercise is consistently associated with a lower risk of death, it is unclear whether weight-bearing exercise may have similar effects.

A trial with 155,000 people

Trying to cover this gap of knowledge, researchers set out to separately and jointly assess the potential impact of weight-bearing exercise and aerobic activity on the risk of death among older adults.

They did this based on participants in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian (PLCO) Cancer Screening Study. This process began in 1993 and includes 154,897 men and women aged 55 to 74 years from 10 different cancer centers in the United States.

In 2006, 104,002 participants were also asked if they had done so weight exercises in the past year and, if so, how often they did it: from less than once a month to several times a week. They were also asked about the frequency and duration of moderate- and vigorous-intensity physical activity in the past year.

The intensity moderately is described as “activity in which you have sweated lightly or increased your breathing and heart rate to moderately high levels” and activity energetic as “an activity strenuous enough to make you sweat or raise your breathing and heart rate to very high levels.”


Four activity groups were generated based on total weekly minutes of MVPA: (1) inactive, 0 minutes; (2) insufficient aerobic AFMV, 1-149 minutes; (3) sufficient 150 minutes or more of moderate activity or an equivalent amount of vigorous activity; and (4) very active, 301 minutes or more of moderate activity or an equivalent amount of vigorous activity.

Total responses from 99,713 people, 28,477 of whom died during an average of 9.5 years of follow-up. The mean age at the start of the follow-up period was 71 years, and the mean body mass index (BMI) was 27.8 kg/m2, which was defined as overweight.

almost 1 out of 4 (23%) respondents declared that they did some weight lifting activity; 16% say they regularly exercise with weights between one and six times a week. Nearly a third (32%) were sufficiently aerobically active, meeting (24%) or exceeding (8%) AFMV guidelines.

Weights and aerobic exercise

Both weight-bearing exercise and aerobic AFVM were independently associated with a lower risk of death from any cause, as well as cardiovascular disease, but not cancer.

Overall, weight-bearing exercise in the absence of MVPA was associated with a 9% to 22% lower risk of death, depending on the amount: for example, using weights once or twice a week was associated with a 14% lower risk.

Similarly, among those who did not exercise with weights, aerobic MVPA was associated with a 24% to 34% lower risk of death from any cause compared with those who reported neither MVPA nor for weight training.

But the lowest risk of death was seen among those who said they took it both types of physical activity. For example, the risk of death was 41% to 47% lower among those who said they met most of the recommended weekly AFMV levels and did weight training once or twice a week than among those who were physically inactive.

Level of education, smoking status, BMI, race, and ethnicity did not significantly modify the observed associations, but gender did: associations were stronger in women.

This is an observational study and as such cannot establish cause. It also only focuses on weights, but there are other types of muscle strengthening exercises, say the researchers, citing rhythmic gymnastics, which includes push-ups and squats; pilates; and plyometric exercises that include jumping ropes and burpees.

Using weights can cause the body is thinner: Total lean mass is independently associated with a lower risk of death, the researchers say in explaining their findings. And if it’s done in a gym, it can also be very social, another factor associated with a longer, healthier life.

“Our finding that the risk of mortality appeared to be lower for those who participated in both types of exercise provides strong support for current recommendations for participation in both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities,” they wrote. Older adults are likely to benefit from adding weight-bearing exercises to their routine physical activities.”

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