Seniors, Want to Live Longer? Pump Some Iron!

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By BMH Staff

Those who strength trained twice a week had a 46 percent lower risk of death

Older adults who strength trained at least twice a week had 46 percent lower chance of death than those who didn’t, according to a large survey.

Previous studies have found physically active seniors have better quality of life and a lower risk of mortality. Regular exercise is associated with prevention of several health conditions, including cardiovascular disease, diabetes, some cancers and early death. But those studies have looked at the rewards of physical activity and aerobic exercise. Less data have been collected on strength training, most likely because strength-training guidelines are more recent than recommendations for aerobic activity. The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association issued a joint recommendation that all adults strength train at least two times a week in 2007.

“This doesn’t mean that strength training wasn’t a part of what people had been doing for a long time as exercise, but it wasn’t until recently that it was solidified in this way as a recommendation,” said Jennifer L. Kraschnewski, assistant professor of medicine and public health sciences at the Penn State College of Medicine.

But during the past decade, researchers started demonstrating the benefits of strength training for strength, muscle mass and physical function, as well as for improvements in chronic conditions such as diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis and low back pain.

For the new study, researchers wanted to analyze the mortality effects on older adults who meet strength-training guidelines. They examined data from the 1997-2001 National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) linked to death certificate data through 2011. The NHIS collects overall health, disease and disability data of the United States population from a nationally representative sampling of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The survey included more than 30,000 adults age 65 and older and followed them for 15 years.

During the survey period, more than 9 percent of older adults reported strength training at least twice a week. “That’s only a small fraction of the population, but it’s actually higher than we had anticipated,” Kraschnewski said.

Older adults who strength trained at least twice a week had 46 percent lower risk of death for any reason than those who did not. They also had 41 percent lower odds of cardiac death and 19 percent lower odds of dying from cancer. The strength-training participants were, on average, slightly younger, and more likely to be married white males with higher levels of education. They were also more likely to have normal body weight, to engage in aerobic exercise and not to smoke or drink.

The study strongly suggests that strength training in older adults is beneficial beyond improving muscle strength and physical function, Kraschnewski said. “We need to identify more ways that we can help get people engaged in strength training so we can increase the number from just under 10 percent to a much higher percentage of our older adults who are engaged in these activities.”

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