Some muscle work a day keeps the Grim Reaper at bay – at least this is the finding from a systematic review of sixteen different studies examining how muscle-strengthening activities impact mortality from all causes.
The work, reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, showed that between 30 and 60 minutes of muscle-strengthening activity every week was associated with a 10–17 percent lower risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease (CVD), total cancer, diabetes, and lung cancer. This strengthening activity was not associated with the risk of some specific cancer such as colon, kidney, bladder, and pancreatic cancers.
The available data shows that the benefit of muscle work tends to taper off beyond the 60-minute mark, so just getting more ripped won’t make you less likely to die. For conditions like diabetes, the analysis showed that the highest risk reduction was at the 60 minutes per week mark.
The data also indicated that the combination of aerobic activity and muscle work was also pretty good – the risk of death from CVD was 46 percent lower, from cancer was 28 percent lower, and from all causes was 40 percent lower.
The meta-analysis included studies with many participants, with between 4,000 and almost 480,000 participants for individual studies. The age range went from 18 to 97. Twelve studies included men and women, two included men only, and three included women only. Every study included aerobic or other physical activity together with the muscle strength workout.
The earliest study was from 2012 and the longest participants were monitored was for 25 years. Most studies were from the US, with the rest from England, Scotland, Australia, and Japan. This is one of the several limitations of the results – they might not be widely applicable. They were also observational studies, not clinical trials. They relied on subjective assessment of muscle-strengthening activities.
"The combination of muscle-strengthening and aerobic activities may provide a greater benefit for reducing all-cause, CVD and total cancer mortality," the authors wrote in the paper's conclusions.
“Given that the available data are limited, further studies – such as studies focusing on a more diverse population – are needed to increase the certainty of the evidence.”
Muscle-strengthening exercise, plus aerobic work, has been long 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 dedicated to it might have significant health benefits in the long term.