Posted on Nov 20, 2023, 4 p.m.
Physical activity can help you to live a longer and healthier life, there’s a growing body of evidence that suggests both strength training and cardio are equally important to longevity and that a mix of both aerobic and strength training provides the most benefits to health.
A study recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine adds to the evidence finding that an exercise routine of either strength training or aerobic exercise was associated with a lower risk of dying, and to add to this a routine that includes 1-3 hours a week of aerobic exercise and 1-2 strength training sessions per week was associated with an even lower risk of mortality.
For this study, 416,429 adults who were enrolled in the National Health Interview Survey were tracked from 1997 to 2014. Participants completed questionnaires asking about the types of physical activity they engaged in, including intensity levels, and how often they engaged in muscle strength training exercises. The researchers analyzed the data, adjusting for income, education, chronic conditions, marital status, age, and gender among other factors.
Findings revealed that those who engaged in one hour of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise per week were at 15% less risk of mortality than those who did none, and those who engaged in moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise for three hours a week had a 15% lower risk of mortality. Those who also engaged in 1-2 strength training sessions per week had a 40% lower risk of mortality than those who did not exercise.
According to data scientist and study author Carver Coleman, switching from having a sedentary lifestyle to maintaining an active exercise routine is the equivalent of “smoking versus not smoking.”
“The study is exciting because it does support having a mix of both aerobic and strength training," said Kenneth Koncilja, a gerontologist at the Cleveland Clinic (not involved in the study). "That is definitely something I talk with my patients about all the time."
It can be hard to investigate the relationships between strength training and longevity because not enough people regularly incorporate it into their exercise routines. Even in this study only 24% of the participants regularly included strength training in their routines, while 63% reported regularly engaging in aerobic exercise. "Even with huge cohorts like we had here, the numbers are still relatively small," said Arden Pope, an economist at Brigham Young University and one of the study's authors.
Fortunately, scientists are finding ways to assess the impact of strength training on longevity, such as the meta-analysis also recently published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. The researchers from this study found that the biggest reduction in the risk of mortality was associated with 30-60 minutes of strength training per week resulting in an impressive 10-20% decrease in the risk of mortality, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. However, Haruki Momma, study author and sports scientist at Tohoku University noted that more research is required in order to determine the optimal amount of strength training needed to reduce risks.
Even though more research may be needed, in general, most experts agree that regular exercise and strength training can have substantial beneficial impacts for healthy aging and longevity which includes maintaining a high quality of life that can provide you with time to do things you like with those you love.
"You will function at a much higher level, for longer, if you have good muscle strength," said Bruce Moseley, an orthopedic surgeon at Baylor College of Medicine. Moseley suggests that keeping a consistent schedule and taking steps to avoid overuse injuries is an important step in creating an effective strength training routine. "Keep it at a light and easy level at first," he said. "Once your body starts getting adjusted, then you can start increasing."
It is equally important to be consistent and stick with it, and soon enough it will become a habit. Rumor has it that it takes around 21-66 days to form a new habit, but everyone forms habits differently, so even if it does take longer, say up to 254 days or more, don’t give up, the benefits make this well worth the effort. The benefits of making this a habit can help you to live longer, and help to improve your quality of life so you’ll be healthier as well. After all, what is the point of living longer if you are not healthy enough to enjoy it?
"When I ask people, 'What does successful aging mean to you?' people say they want to be independent, they want to maintain their function and quality of life, they want to do the things that they want to do," Koncilja said. "It's not necessarily just living as long as possible."
As with anything you read on the internet, this article should not be construed as medical advice; please talk to your doctor or primary care provider before changing your wellness routine. This article is not intended to provide a medical diagnosis, recommendation, treatment, or endorsement.
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