Exercise is undoubtedly a wonder drug when it comes to boosting health and longevity, yet the life-changing benefits of fitness are often pinned on cardio activities. Now, a game-changing study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine has called out strength training as the most life-changing training modality of all.
This important finding comes after academics at the United States National Cancer Institute spent nearly a decade examining data from almost 100,000 adults. The researchers identified that people who did 60 minutes of aerobic exercise each week had a 15 per cent lower mortality risk. Those who upped the ante with three hours of aerobic exercise each week had a 27 per cent reduction in mortality risk. Most interestingly, it was only when people added strength training into the mix that the life-lengthening benefits went up exponentially. Mixing aerobic exercise with just one or two strength workouts a week resulted in a 40 percent drop in mortality risk.
Adding more years is just the beginning …
Bryce Hastings, Les Mills Head of Research, explains that adding resistance training to your routine won’t just help you live longer, it will help you enjoy good health for longer – which is fundamental to happiness in our later years of life.
When you focus on building muscle you become stronger, fitter, burn more calories and enjoy long-term fat-burning benefits. And there are plenty more reasons to love lifting. There’s evidence that strength training can improve heart health more significantly than cardio exercise, along with studies showing how high-repetition strength training can grow stronger bones. Hastings says the bone-strengthening benefits of resistance training are particularly important as once you hit 40 your bone mineral density declines at an accelerated rate, meaning you’re more likely to suffer from fractures and osteoporosis.
When it comes to mental health, research has highlighted how a strength training regime involving lunges, lifts, squats and crunches can diminish the effects of anxiety. We also know that those who develop moderate muscle strength are 32 percent less likely to develop diabetes, while strength training will improve your sleep.
For fitness professional and athlete Erin Maw, increasing her focus on strength training has been transformational. “It has absolutely improved my athletic performance. It strengthens your bones and stabilizes muscles around your joints. It makes your glutes, hamstrings, and quads so much more powerful, plus it strengthens your core, and research shows that helps you run faster." She says that as a woman, building strength is critical. “Women need strength training. As we get older, we reduce our ability to build and retain muscle, so strength training is absolutely essential for lifelong health and fitness.”
What’s the optimal strength training prescription?
A global analysis of 16 individual studies spanning three decades shows that as little as 30 – 60 minutes of muscle-strengthening activity each week can help reduce your risk of dying by up to a fifth. The maximum life-lengthening benefit comes when you combine muscle strengthening and aerobic activities.
With this in mind, Hastings recommends a weekly routine of two resistance exercise training sessions focusing on the major muscle groups, with three to four cardio sessions and one flexibility and mobility-based session as the ideal prescription.
Is lifting weights the only way to build strength?
If you think grunting away lifting large lumps of iron is the only way to enjoy the perks of strength training, think again. While this most recent study focused on weight-based exercises, the researchers noted that other types of muscle-strengthening exercise, such as bodyweight-based strength training (involving exercises like push-ups and squats) would also be beneficial, as would Pilates.
Why you need to take action today…
While it’s never too late to start strength training, the younger you start, the better the benefits. Some years back, a team of Swedish scientists found that young people between the ages of 16-19 who had greater leg strength were more likely to live a longer, healthier life, with fewer disabling problems as they age. Interestingly, the experts suspect this could be linked to self-esteem and anxiety, as people with poorer muscular strength also have lower levels of self-esteem and higher levels of anxiety – both of which have been shown to cause health problems throughout life.
What equipment do you need to build strength?
You don’t need a whole gym-load of gear to become your strongest. Watch and learn how to build strength and fitness with just two weight plates.