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Why Weightlifting Plus Cardio Is a Winning Combo

Aerobic exercise + strength training = lower mortality.

Key points

  • Recent research looks into the role of muscle-strengthening exercise in helping older adults live longer.
  • Regularly lifting weights, without any cardio, is associated with 9–⁠22 percent lower mortality.
  • Aerobics without MSE lowers death risk by 24–⁠34 percent; cardio combined with MSE may mean 41–⁠47 percent lower mortality.
Dragon Images/Shutterstock
Source: Dragon Images/Shutterstock

It's well established that regular aerobic activity (cardio) is associated with lower mortality across the human lifespan. Less understood is the role that muscle-strengthening exercise (MSE), such as weightlifting or resistance training, has on longevity and reducing someone's risk of premature death.

An observational study (Gorzelitz et al., 2022) of 154,897 people aged 55–74 compared mortality risks among participants with different weekly exercise habits. The findings were published on September 27 in the peer-reviewed British Journal of Sports Medicine.

The current physical activity recommendation for adults is a weekly minimum of 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity, 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity cardio, or an equal combination of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA), plus at least two full-body resistance training sessions per week.

For their recent study, first author Jessica Gorzelitz and colleagues divided participants into four main groups:

  1. People who were inactive
  2. Those who only lifted weights
  3. Exercisers who only engaged in cardio
  4. Those whose weekly workout regimen included a combination of aerobic activity and strength training

The researchers also subdivided those who met the weekly cardio guidelines into a "sufficiently active" group that completed 150+ minutes of aerobic activity per week and a "highly active" group that completed 300+ minutes of cardio per week. Notably, those in the "highly active" group who completed more than 301 minutes of cardio per week had lower all-cause mortality rates.

It's important to note that this is an observational study; the associations between all-cause mortality and exercise habits are correlative, not causative. Because correlation does not imply causation, it's impossible for Gorzelitz et al. to know without a shadow of a doubt if specific exercise habits are actually causing lower all-cause mortality. Another limitation of this study: Participants self-reported their exercise habits; there's the possibility that the exercise data itself isn't 100 percent accurate.

All-Cause Mortality Statistics: Strength Training vs. Cardio Workouts

  • Weightlifting without any cardio is associated with 9–⁠22 percent lower all-cause mortality.
  • Cardio without weightlifting is associated with 24–⁠34 percent lower all-cause mortality.
  • Weightlifting plus cardio is associated with 41–⁠47 percent lower all-cause mortality.

Overall, statistical analysis showed that in comparison to study participants who were inactive and didn't exercise, 150–⁠300+ minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity (MVPA) per week combined with weekly strength-training exercise was associated with 41–⁠47 percent lower all-cause mortality.

Study participants who met or exceeded the weekly physical activity guidelines for aerobic MVPA but didn't do any strength training had a 24–⁠34 percent lower risk of premature death.

Lastly, all-cause mortality rates among those who lifted weights one to three times a week but didn't do any cardio were 9–⁠22 percent lower. On average, those who lifted weights at least three times a week had lower mortality than those who only did strength training once, or maybe twice, a week.

Weightlifting Plus Cardio May Be a Life-Extending Combo

"Lower all-cause mortality was observed in older adults doing either aerobic or weightlifting exercise, but the lowest mortality risk was seen among adults who reported both types of exercise," the authors conclude. "Our finding that mortality risk appeared to be lowest for those who participated in both types of exercise provides strong support for current recommendations to engage in both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities."

References

Jessica Gorzelitz, Britton Trabert, Hormuzd A. Katki, Steven C. Moore, Eleanor L. Watts, Charles E. Matthews. "Independent and Joint Associations of Weightlifting and Aerobic Activity With All-Cause, Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer Mortality in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial." British Journal of Sports Medicine (First published: September 27, 2022) DOI: 10.1136/bjsports-2021-105315

See also: "New Physical Activity Guidelines Based on Decade of Research"

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