The notion that working out is good for you certainly is not anything new — it’s been shown over and over that exercise cuts your risk of heart disease, can help maintain a healthy weight, reduces stress and more.
While the benefits of aerobic exercises like spinning, swimming and running are often what first come to mind, a new study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine found that weightlifting ― when combined with the recommended amount of aerobic exercise ― has serious health benefits, too.
For the study, the recommended amount of aerobic exercise was defined as the current fitness guidelines, which state adults should do at least two days of strength training each week and should participate in 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity (like gardening, brisk walking or dancing) or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity (like running, swimming or jumping rope). You can also do a combination of both moderate and vigorous activities.
The new study analyzed data from 99,713 adults over a 10-year period. At the beginning of the study, participants were asked how often they had lifted weights in the past 12 months. They were given the options of less than once a month, one to three times per month, one to two times per week, or three to seven times per week.
The study found that people who met the guidelines for aerobic activity and lifted weights one to two times each week were associated with a 41% to 47% reduction in all-cause mortality when compared with people who did not exercise, according to CNN. People who only met the guidelines for aerobic activity but did not lift weights had a 32% lower risk of all-cause mortality.
What’s more, those who lifted weights but did not do aerobic fitness saw as much as a 22% lower risk in all-cause mortality, CNN reported.
Additionally, those who lifted weights saw a 15% lower risk of dying from cancer, Medical News Today reported. While aerobic activity also resulted in a lower risk of death from cancer, that mortality risk was not reduced further when weightlifting was combined with aerobic activity.
A few caveats to keep in mind: Participants did not share how much weight they lifted or the number of sets or reps they did, so it’s unclear whether those factors played into the beneficial results. Also, the average age of study participants was 71, so it’s unclear whether weightlifting has a similar benefit on younger people.
Beyond a reduction in the risk of early death, weightlifting has other benefits, too
According to Katie Gould, a trainer and owner of KG Strong in Philadelphia, “strength training is one of the greatest tools for getting out of pain, as long as you’re doing it with good technique and alignment.”
By lifting weights, you’re strengthening muscles that were likely weak to begin with and may be the underlying cause of pain, she told HuffPost.
Another benefit of weightlifting may seem pretty straightforward but is actually a big deal: You’re getting stronger. Gould noted that many of her clients are excited to be able to properly and safely move things like the couch or the bed.
And with new strength comes increased confidence, Gould noted — and she has witnessed that confidence in her clients in and out of the gym.
Do weight training exercises that involve your full body
“It is important to work all the major muscle groups of the body — the legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms,” lead study author Jessica Gorzelitz, assistant professor in the department of health and human physiology at the University of Iowa, told HuffPost. This way, you’ll strengthen your body as a whole, not just a specific body part.
To get started, Gould recommended you commit to 30 minutes of weightlifting once a week with an eventual goal of two to three times a week. She stressed that your workout program should incorporate a range of exercises.
“A really good program is going to have a bilateral lower body push exercise — so think about a squat — [and] a bilateral lower body pull exercise like a deadlift. And, really, you want at least one exercise that is going to be unilateral, or one side dominant, like a lunge,” she said.
Gould said you should also be sure to focus on your upper body. Try incorporating an upper-body push like a pushup and an upper-body pull like a pullup. Lastly, make sure your workout targets your core. Gould noted that her favorite core exercises are Turkish get-ups or a classic plank.
“You’d do three sets for about eight to 12 reps depending on whether or not you’re using [weights],” Gould said. If you are doing bodyweight exercises (meaning, without weights), you can try to get closer to the 12-rep number.
Before you start weightlifting, seek some guidance
“People may be unfamiliar with weightlifting and not know how to get started. Our results suggest that some is better than none, and it’s OK to get started slowly and progress as strength and confidence increases,” Gorzelitz said.
But, improper weightlifting form can lead to injuries and intense soreness, which is why Gould encouraged folks to get help from a professional before lifting up some dumbbells.
“My favorite choice is you go to a studio and you either get some private training or semi-private training,” she said. But, if you can’t do that, she added that many gyms offer virtual training sessions where they’ll create a workout program that is ideal for you and your goals.
Additionally, there are people online who give weightlifting guidance. Gould recommended Girls Gone Strong, an online program that has free, downloadable fitness guides. The program also shares technique tips on its Instagram account.
Gould said Perform Better is a great resource for general movement tips and so is Katie St. Clair Fitness. She noted that her own gym’s Instagram account shares weightlifting advice, too.