Strength training may be as important as aerobic exercise for a longer life

Strength training may be as important as aerobic exercise for a longer life


Although aerobic exercise has long taken the lead in physical activity guidelines, researchers have found that bicep curls and bench presses may be just as important for health and longevity.

Strength training – exercise that increases muscle strength by working muscles against weight or force (such as gravity) – has been added to the 2010 Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health.

In a recent meta-analysis combining 16 studies and data from more than 1.5 million subjects, muscle-strengthening activities were associated with an almost 20% reduced risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, lung cancer and all-cause mortality.

“Strength training confers a host of health benefits independent of aerobic exercise,” said Daniel J. McDonough, researcher at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health and co-author of a large study that looked at the effect of aerobics and strength training. reinforcement exercise on mortality. Adding muscle also improves fitness and bone mineral density and reduces the risk of musculoskeletal injury.

Running, swimming, playing soccer and other aerobic exercises do a lot for the cardiovascular system — our heart and blood vessels — but they don’t do much for overall muscle mass or strength.

Perhaps most important for health, studies have shown that strength training improves the body’s response to insulin and, therefore, leads to better blood sugar control after meals – meaning a reduced risk of diabetes or insulin resistance, conditions that can harm the heart and cardiovascular system by thickening the heart wall and increasing arterial plaque formation.

Additionally, new evidence shows that contraction of skeletal muscle produces myokines, which are small chains of amino acids that exist between muscle and the rest of the body and can help regulate various metabolic processes conducive to better cardiometabolic health. , explains McDonough. Last spring, German researchers reported that “by stimulating skeletal muscle in a certain way, we can use this crosstalk and improve health.”

Because aging and inactivity tend to reduce muscle mass, resistance training is even more crucial for older adults because it helps slow the natural loss of muscle mass as you age, McDonough says. Reducing muscle loss as you age is crucial for maintaining independence and helping seniors stay active. It also reduces the risk of chronic diseases due to disability and inactivity.

According to experts, weight training appears to have positive effects on brain health and function, possibly lowering the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.

Michael Valenzuela is a researcher at the University of New South Wales and one of the leaders of a study that examined the effect of resistance exercise on cognitive function and brain structure in 100 subjects with impairment. mild cognitive. He found that strength training seemed to protect areas of the brain, particularly the hippocampus, normally targeted by Alzheimer’s disease.

This may give strength training a potential role in disease prevention, Valenzuela says. “We also found that these changes led to better general cognitive performance in older people who took the training, so it wasn’t just a chance finding,” he says.

A 2022 study in JAMA Network Open based on the Canadian Longitudinal Study of Aging found that the presence of low muscle mass was associated with a more rapid future decline in cognitive function in adults aged 65 or older. Researchers have hypothesized that greater muscle mass can lead to more physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness, which leads to greater blood flow to the brain.

So how much strength training is enough?

Federal Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommend at least two strength training sessions each week. Ideally, sessions should include four to six different exercises involving as many muscle groups as possible (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms). For each exercise, perform 10 to 12 repetitions two to three times.

“We found that only 1-3 hours per week of moderate exercise – brisk walking and/or vigorous aerobic exercise such as [high intensity interval training] training – and just 1-2 times a week of strength training significantly reduced the risk of death from all causes,” McDonough says.

Since walking to the bus or the store matters, most people should be able to get 60 minutes a week of aerobic exercise, McDonough says. And both weight training sessions don’t have to be in the gym, he adds. They can be with any form of resistance, such as gravity, hand weights, resistance bands, or even water bottles or cans from the cupboard, or grocery bags.

So cardio or weights or both? If you’re looking to live longer, doing both is your best bet, experts say.

“We’ve consistently found that the greatest health benefits, whether it’s a reduced risk of death or chronic disease or an improvement in risk factors like blood pressure or cholesterol, have observed in people who did both types of exercise rather than one or the other,” said Angelique Brellenthin, assistant professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University and co-author of a recent review article. entitled “Aerobic exercise or strength training: which is better for your health? »

The review found that while aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercises independently reduced the risk of death from all causes, people who did cardio and weights experienced the greatest benefit, including a reduced risk of about 40 % all-cause mortality and a 50% reduction in risk of mortality from cardiovascular disease.

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