Two new large studies suggest a combination of regular cardiovascular exercise and strength training reduce the risk of premature mortality more than just cardio or just strength workouts.
Current Exercise Recommendations
Cardiovascular at least 30 minutes most days.
- 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or
- 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, or
- An equivalent combination of moderate- and vigorous-intensity aerobic activity.
Strength at least two non-consecutive days
- A variety of activities which include legs, hips, chest, back, abdomen, shoulders and arms.
- Strength training is any activity that makes muscles do more than they are accustomed to doing during the routine activities of daily life
- To be effective you need to do each exercise to exhaustion.
You can read more about the new current recommendations for different types of physical activities here.
Strength Training and Longevity
One meta-analysis published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM) reviewed and analyzed 16 studies. The researchers concluded, “Muscle-strengthening activities were associated with a 10–17% lower risk of all-cause mortality, cardiovascular disease (CVD), total cancer, diabetes and lung cancer. No association was found between muscle-strengthening activities and the risk of some site-specific cancers (colon, kidney, bladder and pancreatic cancers).
“J-shaped associations with the maximum risk reduction (approximately 10–20%) at approximately 30–60 min/week of muscle-strengthening activities were found for all-cause mortality, CVD and total cancer, whereas an L-shaped association showing a large risk reduction at up to 60 min/week of muscle-strengthening activities was observed for diabetes.”
J-shaped means the greatest risk reduction is from 30 – 60 minutes of strength workouts a week. Doing more reduces the risk a little less but still helps combat muscle atrophy. L-shaped means up to 60 minutes a week of strength training provides the greatest risk reduction and doing more than an hour has no added benefit for longevity.
Combining Strength Training with Aerobics Yields More Benefit
A second study also published in the BJSM examined the benefits of doing both aerobic and resistance exercise. The study followed over 100,000 participants for 15 years.
The researchers concluded, “Exercising with weights and aerobic moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA) were both independently associated with a lower risk of death from any cause, as well as from cardiovascular disease, but not from cancer.”
“Overall, working out with weights in the absence of MVPA was associated with a 9-22% lower risk of death, depending on the amount: for example, using weights once or twice a week was associated with a 14% lower risk.
“Similarly, among those who didn’t exercise with weights, aerobic MVPA was associated with a 24-34% lower risk of death from any cause, compared with those who reported neither MVPA nor exercising with weights.
“But the lowest risk of death was seen among those who said they did both types of physical activity.
“For example, the risk of death was 41-47% lower among those who said they met most recommended weekly levels of MVPA and who exercised with weights once or twice a week than it was among those who were physically inactive.”
How Much Cardio and How Much Resistance Exercise?
A third study also published in the BJSM looked at about 416,000 people. Researchers concluded, “The minimum effective dose of aerobic physical activity for significant mortality risk reduction was 1 hour / week of moderate physical activity or vigorous physical activity, with additional mortality risk reduction observed up to 3 hours / week. For older adults, only small decreases in mortality risk were observed beyond this duration. Completing muscle strengthening exercise in combination with aerobic physical activity conferred additional mortality risk reduction, with a minimum effective dose of 1–2 times / week.
Each of the above three studies examined the association between different amounts and types of exercise and death rates. The studies didn’t demonstrate why people who exercised in these ways lived longer.
Researchers then tried to figure out why people who did strength training lived longer.
“Studies have found that strength training improves the body’s response to insulin and, therefore, leads to better control of blood sugar after meals — which means 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.
“Emerging evidence shows contracting skeletal muscles produce myokines, which are small strings of amino acids existing between muscles and the rest of the body that can help regulate various metabolic processes conducive to better cardiometabolic health.”
As we age our muscles atrophy unless we do some sort of resistance training. Maintaining muscle mass is crucial to staying active, which lowers the risk of chronic disease from disability and inactivity.
“Strength training appears to have positive effects on brain health and function, perhaps decreasing the risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s disease.” Strength training appears “to protect areas of the brain, specifically the hippocampus, normally targeted by Alzheimer’s.”
Greater muscle mass increases the blood flow to the brain when you are physically active.
[Washington Post: For longevity, muscle strength may be as important as aerobic exercise]
How to Combine Cardio and Resistance Training
Resistance training isn’t just weight lifting. Any kind of load on a muscle group that forces the muscles to work significantly harder is resistance training.
No special equipment. This column illustrates different exercises you can do without any special equipment: Anti-Aging: 4 Essential Year-Round Home Resistance Exercises.
Cycling isn’t resistance training unless you push a very big gear with a low cadence, which is hard on your knees.
Recovery. For resistance training to be most effective you need to work your muscles to the point of failure, i.e., you can’t do any more. This means if you do resistance training on a cycling recovery day then it isn’t a real recovery day.
Weekly plan. Plan your week so you can do your resistance workouts on riding days. The riding days should be substantive, not just recovery spins. Your week could include a couple of brisk 30- to 90-minute tempo rides, perhaps an intensity workout and a multi-hour endurance ride. The endurance ride and the intensity ride are the more challenging of the week. Do your resistance workouts on your tempo days. Plan your week so you have a recovery day after your day with both cycling and strength training.
Split workouts. You don’t have to do all your strength training on the same day. The guidelines recommend a variety of activities including legs, hips, chest, back, abdomen, shoulders and arms. Do your legs and hips on riding days and exercise your other body parts on cycling recovery days.
Combine workouts. In an earlier column Anti-Aging: New Research on Intensity, Fitness and Longevity I described research on exercise snacks, e.g., briskly climbing three flights of stairs three times a day resulted in a modest increase in cardiovascular fitness. Load up a backpack with full bottles and canned food totaling about 5% of your body weight and climb stairs. If this doesn’t result in your legs saying “no more”, then put more stuff in your backpack.
Activities of daily living. Park your car away from the grocery store and carry bags of groceries to the car instead of using a cart.
Multi-task. Do squats while you brush your teeth.
Vary by season. The goal of the twice-a-week recommendation is to prevent muscle atrophy. You can also prevent the overall loss of muscle mass by averaging twice-a-week strength sessions over the course of the year. This winter when you’re riding less try for three strength sessions a week, which will result in strength gains. In the spring as you ramp up your riding do, two sessions a week, which are sufficient to maintain your muscle mass and strength. In the summer when you’re riding a lot cut back to one day a week of resistance training. You’ll slowly lose muscle mass and strength. In the fall resume two sessions a week, which are sufficient to stop muscle atrophy. And it the winter resume three sessions a week to rebuild strength.
- Anti-Aging: 4 Reasons Why Year-Round Strength Training is Good for You
- Anti-Aging: How to Do Strength Training Correctly
- 5 Simple Strength Exercises to Keep Cyclists Injury-Free
My eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process describes in detail different resistance exercise programs depending on your goal(s): 1) increase endurance, 2) address atrophy and increase power, 3) improve for hard riding, 4) build stronger bones. I include 30 illustrated exercises for lower, upper and core muscles, which require very little special equipment. I explain how to combine resistance exercise with endurance and intensity training, which varies by season. I provide flexibility, balance and weight-bearing exercise programs. My 108-page eBook Anti-Aging: 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process is $14.99.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written over 40 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.