A woman works out at a gym.Share on Pinterest
FG Trade/Getty Images
  • Doing just 30 to 60 minutes of strength training during the week can help you stay healthy and reduce your risk of death, according to a new study.
  • Strength training includes activities like squats, pushups, and weight training.
  • Exercise in all forms can help with overall health including cardiovascular health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) currently recommends up to 150 minutes of exercise per week to help maintain health. However, new research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine finds that even 30 minutes of strength training reduce the risk of many health issues.

Researchers at Tohoku University in Japan reviewed over a dozen international studies to find that just 30 to 60 minutes of strength training per week reduces risk of early death by up to 20 percent.

“Many previous studies showed a favorable influence of muscle-strengthening exercises on non-communicable diseases (NCDs) and early death risk,” lead study author Dr. Haruki Momma told Healthline.

Momma and his team reviewed 16 studies on the potential benefits of muscle strengthening, all of which followed adults with no major health issues for at least 2 years.

The longest study they analyzed went on for 25 years, and sample sizes varied from 4,000 to nearly 480,000 people.

All of the studies looked at aerobic or other types of physical activity participants performed, including muscle-strengthening activities.

Data analysis showed that adults doing at least 30 minutes of strength training per week had up to a 20 percent reduced risk of death over the study period.

According to Momma, while research from 2019 found no clear association between resistance training and mortality from cardiovascular disease (CVD) and cancer, resistance training was still associated with reduced all-cause mortality.

However, he noted that previous research hadn’t looked at newer, relevant studies on the subject or ones that identified the optimum amount of exercise.

“Because increasing numbers of relevant studies were reported, we think it’s now possible to systematically update and expand on previous reviews that did not directly provide the ‘optimal’ dose of muscle-strengthening activities,” said Momma.

Researchers found no association between muscle strengthening and reduced risk of specific types of cancer, like bowel, kidney, bladder, or pancreatic.

“Because existing physical activity guidelines primarily focus on the musculoskeletal health benefits, such as muscle and bone strength and physical function of muscle-strengthening activities, we tried to support the recommendation from the perspective of preventing premature death and NCDs,” said Momma.

According to the study findings, doing strength-training activities for up to 1 hour per week was found to largely reduce the risk of death associated with diabetes, although that benefit tapered off when performed longer than that.

The authors also pointed out that health benefits were greatest when strength exercise was combined with aerobic exercise.

People who strength trained for 1 hour per week and performed about 150 minutes of aerobic training showed a 40 percent reduction in death risk reduction from any cause, a 46 percent reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, and 28 percent lower risk of dying from cancer, the study found.

Momma acknowledged some limitations to the study findings.

“The first and most important limitation is that the meta-analysis included only a small number of studies,” he said. “Second, the included studies evaluated muscle-strengthening activities using a self-reported questionnaire or the interview method.”

Momma added that other limitations included:

  • The ability to generalize the findings is limited because most of the included studies were conducted in the United States.
  • Observational studies were included in the meta-analysis and were potentially influenced by residual, unknown, and unmeasured confounding factors.
  • Momma and his team only searched two databases (Medline and Embase), so some relevant studies may have been missed.

According to Andrew Freeman, MD, a cardiologist at National Jewish Health in Denver, strength exercise improves bone density, raises your basal metabolic rate, and increases flexibility.

Building muscle may even help you maintain a healthy weight.

“We know that people who lift weights, when they make more muscle, even at rest they burn more calories, which is always a good thing,” said Freeman.

Freeman noted that this study helps underscore the importance of mixing good cardio (for which he recommends 30 minutes on average every day) with some sort of strength training.

He added that the activity that most closely resembles the movement of our ancestors is high intensity interval training (HIIT). HIIT can be an effective way of balancing cardio and strength training.

Freeman cautioned that people who haven’t strength trained before should be careful not to go all out when they start.

“You’re likely to get a herniated disc or do something terrible, so always check with your doctor first and if you have orthopedic limitations, figuring out how to do strength training without hurting yourself is critical,” he advised.

Freeman also believes that there’s a way to do strength training for virtually every person.

“Obviously if they have significant neurologic issues that may be a problem, or spinal disease,” he said. “But there is a way to do strength training with your legs, your arms, your core, whatever it may be.”

It simply may need some “tweaking” depending on your health status, explained Freeman, emphasizing that “we can figure out a way around virtually any limitation.”

Researchers in Japan discovered that only 30 minutes of strength training per week is enough to significantly reduce our risk of death from many causes.

Experts say that strength training has important benefits that include improved bone health and boosted metabolism.

They also say that you should consult a physician before beginning any strength training routine.