Muscle strength may be as important as aerobic exercise for longevity
While aerobic exercise has long taken the lead in physical activity guidelines, researchers are finding that biceps curls and bench presses might be equally important for health and longevity.
Strength training — exercise that increases muscle strength by making muscles work against a weight or force (such as gravity) — was added to the 2010 Global Recommendations on Physical Activity for Health.
In a recent meta-analysis combining 16 studies and data from over 1.5 million subjects, muscle-strengthening activities were associated with almost a 20 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes, lung cancer and all-cause mortality.
“Strength training confers a host of health benefits independent of aerobic exercise,” said Daniel J. McDonough, a researcher at the University of Minnesota’s School of Public Health and co-author of a large study that looked at the effect of aerobic and muscle-strengthening exercise on mortality.
Adding some muscle also improves physical fitness and bone mineral density and reduces the risk of musculoskeletal injury.
Running, swimming, playing soccer and other aerobic exercise do a lot for the cardiovascular system — our heart and blood vessels — but they don’t do much for overall muscle mass or strength.
Perhaps most important for health, 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.
Also, 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, McDonough says.
German researchers last spring reported that “by stimulating the skeletal muscle in a certain way, we can make use of this cross talk and improve health.”
Because aging and inactivity tend to reduce muscle mass, resistance training is even more crucial for older adults as it helps slow the natural loss of muscle mass with age, McDonough says. Reducing muscle loss with advanced age is crucial to maintaining independence and helping older adults stay active. This also 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, experts say.
Michael Valenzuela is a researcher at the University of New South Wales and one of the leaders of a study that looked at the effect of resistance exercise on cognitive function and brain structure in 100 subjects with mild cognitive impairment. He found that strength training appeared to protect areas of the brain, specifically the hippocampus, normally targeted by Alzheimer’s.
Source: Washington Post