“Those who weightlifted one to two times per week and met the guidelines for aerobic activity had a 41 percent lower risk of dying over a decade,” says Gorzelitz.
Not interested in pumping iron? That’s not your only option.
In a recent study that followed roughly 416,000 people for up to 18 years, those who did muscle strengthening had an 11 percent lower risk of dying.
Some of them used weights, but others stressed their muscles with resistance bands or even their own bodyweight (like with pushups, lunges, or squats).
Why might strengthening your muscles keep you alive longer?
“We don’t know for sure,” says Gorzelitz. “Presumably, our participants were working hard enough to build lean muscle mass and strength. And that helps maintain function and independence and lowers the risk of debilitating falls.”
Socializing may have also helped.
“Most people who weightlift are probably going to a gym,” says Gorzelitz. “Maybe that reduced their isolation, which is linked to an increased risk of mortality.”
A recent study on nearly 1,300 people by the University of Michigan’s Mark Peterson may also shed some light.
“We looked at grip strength, which is a proxy for total body strength,” he says. “Older folks with higher grip strength had a younger biological age—based on a marker in their DNA—than their chronological age.”
“And a weak 70-year-old’s biological age looked more like an 80-year-old’s,” he adds.
“People have said for a long time that exercise makes you younger without anything to back that up. We’re showing for the first time some biological mechanisms that may explain why. But this is the first study, so we have a lot more to learn.”
Gorzelitz’s and Peterson’s studies can’t prove that being stronger helps lengthen your life or makes you biologically younger. Illness or something else about inactive people could explain their shorter lifespan. Even so, there’s no downside to toning your muscles.