This is why you should lift weights as you get older

This is why you should lift weights as you get older

If you’re not lifting weights, it’s time to start. Building muscle has been shown to improve bone density, metabolism, blood-sugar control, sleep and mental health.

Now, a new study adds one more benefit to that list. Resistance training also protects our hearts as we age — at least in men, according to research published in the January issue of the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.

Scientists analyzed data from a long-term study of cardiovascular health among Mediterranean people. The study followed several thousand Greek participants, who returned after 10 years for more testing.

After examining the results of the 1,019 participants who were at least 45 years old at the second check-in, the new study’s authors discovered the men with the most muscle mass at the study’s start lowered their risk of later developing heart disease by as much as 81%. The team also found that men with the most muscle at baseline had a lower prevalence of other health issues related to heart disease, including obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.

Researchers aren’t sure why muscle’s heart-protecting benefit affects only men, but they hypothesize it may have to do with gender-based hormonal differences and the fact that fewer women developed heart disease in the Greek study. Overall, the researchers noted that men in the study were four times more likely than women to develop cardiovascular disease.

Because the study was observational, the authors can’t pinpoint exactly why or how strength training protects the heart.

“The study shows a correlation between muscle mass and reduced cardiovascular risk — it doesn’t show causation,” says Dr. Paul Silverman, a cardiologist at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. “That said, we know resistance training is an important part of an overall healthy lifestyle. Muscle metabolism is a lot higher than fat metabolism, so having muscle can help you stay leaner. Lifting weights also helps preserve the muscle we naturally lose as we get older.”

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Brigid Sweeney

Brigid Sweeney, health enews contributor, is a media relations manager for Advocate Aurora Health. Previously, she reported for Crain's Chicago Business.