If you're a cardio junkie, it may be tempting to skip the weight room when you work out. Hey, your legs are sore after you hit up your go-to spin class—that totally counts as strength training, right? Eh, not so much. And according to research, it might be time to stop skimping on a legit leg day, because anaerobic exercise (aka strength training) may be the secret to longevity.
In the study published in the journal Preventive Medicine, researchers at the Penn State College of Medicine found a link between strength training and a longer life. While, yes, cardio has been shown to lower your risk for cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's, and cancer, there's much less research on how strength training (as opposed to cardio or overall activity levels) impacts your health and longevity. (Related: An Open Letter to Women Who Are Afraid of the Weight Room)
To examine how strength training would impact mortality, the researchers looked at data from the National Health Interview Survey collected between 1997 and 2001 and linked it to death certificate data of more than 30,000 people aged 65 of older through 2011. Only 9 percent of people reported strength training at least twice a week (come on people!). But those lifters had a 46 percent less risk of early death than people who didn't. They were also 41 percent less likely to have a cardiac-related death and 19 percent less likely to die from cancer. And the results held even after adjusting for other lifestyle factors like smoking or alcohol use.
Other research supports the connection between strength training and heart health, too. In one Appalachian State University study, people who performed 45 minutes of moderate-intensity resistance exercise lowered their blood pressure by a whopping 20 percent (as good as—if not better than—the benefits associated with most blood pressure pills.) Other perks of strength training? Research has shown that lifting heavy weights over time not only maintains bone mass but can even build new bone, especially in the high-risk group of post-menopausal women. Plus, picking up weights will help you prevent injuries by helping you maintain good form and by strenghtening the integrity of your joints. (More on that here: 11 Major Health and Fitness Benefits of Lifting Weights)
So what does this mean for your next sweat session? Don't just hit the treadmill and then hit the locker room. (And by the way, you don't have to do cardio to lose weight.) Get started with the perfect strength training workout for beginners.