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Lifting weights almost halves the risk of premature death among the over-50s, new research shows.

A study found muscle strengthening workouts protect against almost every life-threatening illness.

Best results were seen in those who combined lifting weights with aerobic exercise and the benefit was strongest in women.

Perry Higley, 60, is a prime example of how using weights can benefit us in later life. The ­dad-of-seven, from Chelmsford, Essex, said he is often mistaken for a 40-year-old. He began visiting the gym in his early 20s and adopted a clean diet which he has stuck to for decades.

Author Dr Jessica Gorzelitz, of the National Cancer Institute in Rockville, Maryland, said: “Our finding that mortality risk appeared to be lowest for those who participated in both types of exercise provides strong support for current recommendations to engage in both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities.

“Older adults would probably benefit from adding weightlifting to their physical activity routines.

“Consistent weightlifting is associated with other improvements, including improved musculo-skeletal health.”

Participants, with an average age of 71, gave researchers information on their weightlifting activity and other exercises. Those meeting the aerobic activity guidelines and weightlifting at least one or two times every week had a 41% to 47% lower risk of death.

The “regular” weightlifters were found to have a 14% lower risk of death. And for others who met the aerobic activity levels that shot up to 32%.

The study found adults who reported any ­weightlifting at all had a 9% lower “all-cause mortality risk”.

A similar observation was made for heart disease deaths but no link was found between weight training and cancer fatalities.