Running Is Good. But Research Says You Should Lift Weights Too


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Key Takeaways

  • Lifting weights in combination with aerobic exercise can lower the risk of early death, according to new research.
  • The researchers found women benefited more from weightlifting than men did. 

Weight lifting and aerobic activities like walking, running or cycling are key to longer and healthier lives. A new study suggested that combining strength training and aerobic activities, even in later life, could help with disease prevention and reduce the risk of early death. 

The study, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, found that older adults who lifted weights once or twice a week and did at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activities lowered their risk of early death by 41% compared to those who did not exercise at all.

Those who lifted weights once or twice a week without any other form of exercise also had a 9% lower risk of dying from any cause except for cancer.

“Older adults who participated in weightlifting exercise had significantly lower mortality before and after accounting for aerobic exercise participation, and importantly, those who did both types of exercise had the lowest risk,” Jessica Gorzelitz, PhD, MS, a co-author of the study and an assistant professor in the Department of Health and Human Physiology at the University of Iowa, told Verywell in an email. 

Gorzelitz said this finding is important because it provides strong support for the current physical activity guidelines for U.S. adults, which recommends doing both muscle-strengthening activities and aerobic exercise.

Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans

According to current guidelines, adults should do at least 150 to 300 minutes a week of moderate-intensity exercise, or 75 to 150 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. In addition, muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups are recommended twice or more a week.

What Else You Need to Know About the Study 

Gorzelitz and her colleagues analyzed data from nearly 100,000 people who participated in the Prostate, Lung, Colorectal and Ovarian Cancer Screening Trial that began in 1993, using follow-up questionnaires from 2006, which included questions about exercise habits. 

“Previous evidence showing mortality benefit associated with muscle strengthening exercises is quite limited,” Gorzelitz said. “To investigate this question, we examined data from a large prospective cohort study that asked older adults about weight lifting and aerobic exercise participation and then followed them over time to assess mortality risk.”

About 23% of participants reported lifting weights, and 16% reported doing so regularly. Nearly a third of the participants met or exceeded the recommended amount of aerobic exercise.

Adults who only lifted weights were associated with a 9%–22% lower risk of early death. Those who did not lift weights, but did some level of aerobic exercise had a 24%–34% lower risk of early death. 

Gorzelitz noted that education, smoking status, body mass index, race, and ethnicity did not have an impact on the findings. However, the strongest results were associated with women.

Aside from measuring frequency, the researchers didn’t collect additional details such as intensity.

Why Might Weight Lifting Lower the Risk of Early Death?

Weightlifting, a form of muscle-strengthening exercise, is known to increase lean muscle mass, according to Rigved Tadwalkar, MD, a board-certified cardiologist at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California. In prior studies, an increase in lean mass has been shown to be associated with a lower death risk.

“This likely has to do with endocrine effects, occurring in response to muscle contraction and strength training,” Tadwalkar told Verywell. “This leads to the secretion of proteins from the muscle that can act on itself or other organs in a beneficial way.”

Weight lifting may also offer similar benefits as aerobic exercises do, such as reducing cholesterol and improving blood pressure.

“You’re giving your body a reserve, which means a better chance to be able to fight infection and things that we know are going to happen as you get older, which is heart disease, lung disease, kidney issues, and so forth,” Justen Elbayar, MD, a sports orthopedic surgeon at NYU Langone Huntington Medical Group, told Verywell.

How Can You Safely Add Weight Lifting Into Your Routine?

If you’re already doing aerobic exercises, adding weightlifting to your workout routine is important for longevity and muscle strength.

While both weightlifting and aerobic exercise are important, Gorzelitz noted that if you’re unable to do one of these activities, doing some movement “is better than none.”

Here are some recommendations on how to safely incorporate these activities into your routine: 

  • Start slow
  • Focus on form
  • Perform a low number of repetitions
  • Research certain movements if you don’t know how to properly perform the exercise
  • Train with a friend or physical/personal trainer 
  • Warm up and cool down before and after weightlifting
  • Stretch and hydrate 
  • Increase the weight, duration, or intensity of the activity over time. 

“It is important to be certain that one can tolerate a specific form of exercise before ramping up,” Tadwalkar said. “Exercise should never feel unnatural.”

What This Means For You

Experts recommend incorporating weightlifting and aerobic exercises into your daily routine if you’re physically able to do so. Doing one form of physical activity—whether that’s running, cycling, walking or weight lifting—is better than doing no exercise at all.

3 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Health benefits of physical activity for adults.

  2. Gorzelitz J, Trabert B, Katki HA, Moore SC, Watts EL, Matthews CE. 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 TrialBr J Sports Med. Published online September 27, 2022. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2021-105315

  3. Department of Health and Human Services. Executive summary: physical activity guidelines for Americans, 2nd edition.

By Alyssa Hui
Alyssa Hui is a St. Louis-based health and science news writer. She was the 2020 recipient of the Midwest Broadcast Journalists Association Jack Shelley Award.