Regular physical activity has many known health benefits, and one of them is that it can help us live longer. But what is not yet well defined are the types and duration of exercise that offer us the most benefits.
In a new study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that doing aerobic exercise or strength training was associated with a lower risk of death during the study period, and regularly doing both — one to three hours a week. of aerobics and one to two weekly strength training sessions – posed an even lower mortality risk.
Switching from a sedentary lifestyle to an exercise routine is comparable to “smoking versus not smoking,” said Carver Coleman, a data scientist and one of the study’s authors.
The article is the latest evidence of a trend that shows the importance of strength exercise for longevity and overall health.
“The study is encouraging because it supports a combination of aerobic and strength training,” said Kenneth Koncilja, a gerontologist at the Cleveland Clinic, who was not involved in the study. “This is definitely something I talk about with my patients all the time.”
In the study, the researchers used data from the United States National Health Interview Survey, which followed 416,420 American adults recruited between 1997 and 2014.
Participants filled out questionnaires detailing the types of physical activity they did, specifying whether it was moderate or vigorous, and also how many sessions of strength exercise they did per week.
After adjusting for factors such as age, gender, income, education, marital status, and whether they had chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart conditions, or cancer, the researchers found that people who engaged in one hour of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity a week had a 15% lower risk of mortality. The risk of mortality was 27% lower for those who did three hours a week.
But those who also participated in one to two strength training sessions a week had an even lower risk of mortality — 40% lower than those who didn’t exercise. This was roughly the difference between a non-smoker and someone used to smoking half a pack of cigarettes a day.
Relationship between strength training and longevity is not well understood
Experts say it has been difficult to study the relationship between longevity and strength training because so few people do it regularly. Even in the recent study, only 24% of participants did strength training consistently (as opposed to 63% who said they did aerobic exercise).
“Even with large groups like the ones we had here, the numbers are still relatively small,” said Arden Pope, an economist at Brigham Young University and one of the authors of the paper.
However, research is starting to catch up. In a recent meta-analysis published in February, also in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers were able to quantify the longevity effect of strength training without aerobic activity.
They found that the greatest reduction in mortality was associated with 30 to 60 minutes of strength training per week, with a 10% to 20% drop in risk of death, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
However, as Haruki Momma, a sports scientist at Tohoku University and one of the study’s authors, pointed out, more research needs to be done to find the optimal amount of strength training.
Strength training is important for healthy aging
While more research is needed, experts generally agree that regular strength exercise can have important benefits for healthy aging, including maintaining a high quality of life.
“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.
Muscle strength is needed for a range of daily activities, such as getting up from a chair, opening a jar of jam, carrying groceries indoors, or gardening. However, “we progressively lose muscle mass as we age,” said Monica Ciolino, a physical therapist at Washington University in St. Louis.
This muscle loss usually starts in your 30s and progresses with age. However, “we can certainly ward off the negative effects” with regular strength training, Ciolino said. And it’s never too late to start.
Research shows that even septuagenarians with mobility issues can benefit from a regular strength training program.
Moseley suggests that you stick to a consistent strength training schedule and slow it down to avoid overuse injuries.
“Keep the pace at a light and easy level at first,” he said. “Once your body starts to adapt, you can start bulking up.”
If you’re still unsure about certain exercises, he recommends seeking expert advice at a fitness center or consulting a personal trainer. The important thing, he said, is to get started and create a habit. Not only can this help you live longer, it can also improve your quality of life.
“When I ask people, ‘What does successful aging mean to you?’ they say they want to be independent, they want to maintain their roles and quality of life, they want to do whatever they want,” Koncilja said. “It’s not necessarily just living as long as possible.
Translated by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves
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