(NYTIMES) – Regular physical activity is known to have many health benefits, one of which can help you live longer. But what is still being determined is the type and duration of exercise that provides the most protection.
In a new study published in the British Journal Of Sports Medicine, researchers found that although engaging in aerobic exercise or strength training was associated with a lower risk of death over the study period, doing both regularly – one to three hours of aerobic exercise and aerobic exercise . one to two strength training sessions a week – was associated with a lower risk of death.
Switching from a sedentary lifestyle to an exercise schedule is comparable to “smoking versus not smoking”, says data scientist Carver Coleman, one of the study’s authors.
This paper is the latest piece of evidence in a trend demonstrating the importance of strength training in longevity and overall health.
“This study is interesting because it supports a mix of aerobics and strength training,” said Dr. Kenneth Koncilja, a gerontologist at the Cleveland Clinic, who was not involved in the study. “That’s definitely something I talk to my patients all the time.”
Cardio plus strength training offers the best protection
For the study, the researchers used data from the National Health Interview Survey, which followed 416,420 American adults recruited between 1997 and 2014. Participants filled out a questionnaire detailing the type of physical activity they had engaged in, including determining how much moderate or vigorous exercise along with how many muscle-strengthening training sessions they did in a week.
After adjusting for factors such as age, gender, income, education, marital status and whether they had a chronic condition such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer, researchers found that people who did moderate to vigorous aerobic activity for one hour a week had 15 percent lower risk of death. The risk of death was 27 percent lower for those who did it three hours a week.
But those who also took part in one or two strength training sessions a week had a lower risk of death — 40 percent lower than those who didn’t exercise at all. This is roughly the difference between a non-smoker and someone with the habit of half a pack a day.
Regular strength training is important for healthy aging
Although more research is needed, experts generally agree that regular strength training can have important benefits for healthy aging, including maintaining a high quality of life.
“You’ll function at a much higher level for longer if you have good muscle strength,” says Dr. Bruce Moseley, an orthopedic surgeon at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston.
Muscle strength is required for a number of daily activities, such as getting out of a chair, opening a jar of pickles, bringing groceries into the house or doing yard work. However, “we lose more muscle mass as we age”, says Monica Ciolino, a physical therapist at the University of Washington in St. Louis.
This muscle loss usually begins in your 30s and develops with age. However, “we can actually counteract the negative effects” with regular strength training, he adds. And it’s never too late to start. Research shows that even septuagenarians with mobility problems can benefit from a regular strength training program.