Want to Live Longer? Prioritize Both Aerobic and Strength-Training Activities

The current U.S. recommendations for physical activity may seem modest when viewed by those who exercise almost daily. Just 150 minutes of moderate intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity per week meets the minimum, with a suggestion of engaging in some type of muscle-strengthening effort at least two days a week.

Yet a recent study published in The BMJ suggests that’s enough to help you live longer. And if you do both aerobic activity and strength training, you may be even better off.

An international team of researchers looked at data from the National Health Interview Survey, a 17-year study with nearly half a million adult participants in the U.S., collecting data on numerous health markers and behaviors, including aerobic activity and muscle strengthening.

They compared those behaviors to death from any cause as well as eight specific causes, including cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic lower respiratory tract diseases, accidents, injuries, Alzheimer’s disease, and diabetes.

Doing both regular aerobic exercise and strength training resulted in a 40 percent-reduced risk of dying from these causes during the study period, they found, compared to a 29 percent-reduced risk for people who only did aerobic exercise, and an 11 percent-reduced risk for those who only did strength training.

[The Beginner’s Guide to Strength Training will teach you all the fundamentals to get the most out of your weight session.]

Although this is an observational study—researchers can’t say exercise is the cause of longevity—the large sample size does give it more weight. And the findings here suggest the importance of cross training as a way to maintain health in addition to athletic performance.

“Muscles adapt in different ways to different exercises, and that can impact metabolic health,” Mark Chapman, Ph.D., assistant professor of integrated engineering at the University of San Diego, told Runner’s World. He wasn’t involved in this study, but has done research looking at how exercise types affect metabolic function—a major component in diseases like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

Cross training could also be helpful for longevity because it makes it easier to exercise for a lifetime—one study in Sports Medicine noted that it can reduce risk of overtraining and psychological fatigue, for example, and increase overall fitness.

The bottom line: The recent study highlights the importance of simply just meeting the recommended amount of activity—of the nearly half million people studied, only 16 percent fully met the minimum amount of activity suggested in U.S. guidelines. Including muscle-building exercises—such as lunges, squats, push-ups, and sit-ups—into your exercise routine can give not just your performance, but your overall health, a boost.

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