Monday, August 29, 2022

Strength Training Live Longer


People Who Do Strength Training Live Longer — and Better

A consensus is building among experts that both strength training and cardio‌ are important for longevity.

Credit...Leslye Davis/The New York Times

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Regular physical activity has many known health benefits, one of which is that it might help you live longer. But what’s still being determined are the types and duration of exercise that offer the most protection.

In a new study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers found that while doing either aerobic exercise or strength training was associated with a lower risk of dying during the study’s time frame, regularly doing both — one to three hours a week of aerobic exercise and one to two weekly strength training sessions — was associated with an even lower mortality risk.

Switching from a sedentary lifestyle to a workout schedule is comparable to “smoking versus not smoking,” said Carver Coleman, a data scientist and one of the authors of the study.

The paper is the latest evidence in a trend showing the importance of strength training in longevity and overall health.

“The study is exciting because it does support having a mix of both aerobic and strength training,” said Dr. Kenneth Koncilja, a gerontologist at the Cleveland Clinic, who was not involved in the study. “That is definitely something I talk with my patients about all the time.”

For the study, researchers used National Health Interview Survey data, which followed 416,420 American adults recruited between 1997 and 2014. Participants filled out questionnaires detailing the types of physical activity they had been doing, which included specifying how much moderate or vigorous exercise, along with how many sessions of muscle-strengthening exercises they did in a week.

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After adjusting for factors such as age, gender, income, education, marital status and whether they had chronic conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or cancer, researchers found that people who engaged in one hour of moderate to vigorous aerobic activity a week had a 15 percent lower mortality risk. Mortality risk was 27 percent lower for those who did three hours a week.

But those who also took part in one to two strength-training sessions per week had an even lower mortality risk — a full 40 percent lower than those who didn’t exercise at all. This was roughly the difference between a nonsmoker and someone with a half-a-pack-a-day habit.

Credit...Yana Paskova for The New York Times

Experts say it has been difficult to study longevity and strength training because so few people do it regularly. Even in the recent study, just 24 percent of participants did regular strength training (as opposed to 63 percent who said they did aerobic workouts). “Even with huge cohorts like 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 February, also in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers were able to quantify the effect of strength training on longevity outside of aerobic activity.

They found the largest reduction was associated with 30 to 60 minutes of strength training a week, with a 10 to 20 percent drop in the risk of mortality, cardiovascular disease and cancer. However, as Haruki Momma, a sports scientist at Tohoku University and one of the authors of the study, points out, there needs to be more research done to find the optimal amount of strength training.

Even though 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 will function at a much higher level, for longer, if you have good muscle strength,” said Dr. Bruce Moseley, an orthopedic surgeon at Baylor College of Medicine.

Muscle strength is required for a number of daily activities, such as getting out of a chair, opening a jar of pickles, carrying groceries into the house or doing yardwork. However, “we progressively lose muscle mass as we age,” said Monica Ciolino, a physical therapist at Washington University at St. Louis.

This muscle loss usually starts in a person’s 30s and progresses with age. However, “we can absolutely fend off the negative effects” with regular strength training, Dr. Ciolino said. And it’s never too late to start. Research shows even septuagenarians with mobility issues can benefit from a regular strength-training program.

Dr. Moseley suggests aiming for a consistent strength-training schedule and easing into it to avoid overuse injuries.

“Keep it at a light and easy level at first,” he said. “Once your body starts getting adjusted, then you can start increasing.”

If you are still uncertain about certain exercises, he recommends seeking out expert advice through an exercise class or consulting with a personal trainer. The important thing, he said, is to get to started and to make it a habit. Not only can this help you live longer, it will improve your quality of life.

“When I ask people, ‘What does successful aging mean to you?’ people say they want to be independent, they want to maintain their function and quality of life, they want to do the things that they want to do,” Dr. Koncilja said. “It’s not necessarily just living as long as possible.”

Rachel Fairbank is a freelance science writer based in Texas.

Exercise Reduce Dementia Risk


What Types of Exercise Reduce Dementia Risk?

Several large studies have confirmed that vigorous exercise, walking and even doing household chores can greatly benefit the brain.

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Experts had long believed that exercise could help protect against developing dementia. However, though they had observed a general pattern of reduced risk, studies on the subject had been small — and often conflicting — with little consensus on the type, frequency or intensity of exercise that might be best.

“There’s no real clear prescription that we can provide for physical activity,” said Dr. Joel Salinas, an assistant professor of neurology at New York University’s Grossman School of Medicine, who specializes in treating people with dementia.

But three major long-term studies released in recent months have attempted to characterize the types, intensities and durations of physical activity that confer the most overall protection against dementia. These studies, which followed thousands, and even hundreds of thousands, of people for years at a time, confirm that regular physical activity, in many forms, plays a substantial role in decreasing the risk of developing dementia.

Vigorous exercise seems to be best, but even non-traditional exercise, such as doing household chores, can offer a significant benefit. And, surprisingly, it’s just as effective at reducing the risk in those with a family history of dementia.

In the first study, published July 27 in the journal Neurology, researchers analyzed the health information of 501,376 participants who did not have dementia in a British database called UK Biobank to establish links between physical activity and the risk of developing the disease.

One of the main advantages of this database was that it had “very enriched data about the genetics” of the participants, said Dr. Huan Song, a researcher at West China Hospital, Sichuan University, who was one of the study’s authors. This included a risk profile of participants based on whether they had genetic variants known to be associated with dementia, or whether they had immediate family members with the condition.

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At the beginning of the study, participants filled out detailed questionnaires about their participation in physical activities, such as playing sports, climbing stairs or walking, and whether they regularly walked or biked to work. They were also asked about various lifestyle factors, including how often they completed household chores.

One of the major constraints of previous studies was that “the definition of physical activity is quite weak,” Dr. Song said. “Some use the total amount, and some just focus on one mode of activity.” The British questionnaires offered specificity on exactly which activities participants were engaging in on a regular basis.

Participants were followed for 11 years, during which time 5,185 developed dementia. The study found that, in participants who engaged in regular, vigorous activity, such as playing sports or working out, the risk of developing dementia was reduced by 35 percent. Surprisingly, people who reported regularly completing household chores also experienced a significant benefit; they had a 21 percent lower risk.

“Some people work up quite a sweat when they are doing household chores,” said Dr. Sandra Weintraub, a neurologist at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, who was not associated with this study. “It might be that if you do three hours of household chores, you are as good as if you did 30 minutes of aerobic exercise.”

For Dr. Salinas, who recommends that people aim for 150 minutes of moderate- to high-intensity exercise a week, the results strengthen the idea that regular moderate to vigorous exercise can promote brain health. Cultivating this habit of exercise “is likely to have a very profound synergistic effect,” he said. “You get a lot more bang for your buck in terms of helping to promote your own health through physical activity.”

Perhaps most encouragingly, the association between physical activity and a reduced risk of dementia extended to participants who had a family history of dementia.

“It’s very important to know that if you have a family history of dementia, you can use physical activity to reduce your risk,” Dr. Song said.

The second paper, published last week in Neurology, compiled 38 studies to see which leisure activities were associated with a reduced risk of dementia. Altogether, the studies followed more than two million participants without dementia over at least three years, during which time 74,700 developed dementia.

After controlling for age, education and gender, the researchers found that participants who exercised regularly — defined as engaging in activities such as walking, running, swimming, dancing, participating in sports or working out at the gym — had a 17 percent lower risk of developing dementia compared with those who did not.

This meta-analysis shows that dementia prevention is not limited to one activity, or even one type of activity. Given the diversity of physical activities that participants engaged in, “we recommend to people to do the exercise that you like,” said Le Shi, a researcher at Peking University and one of the study’s authors.

When it comes to reaping the benefits of physical activity, it’s never too soon to start. In a third study published this month, researchers followed more than 1,200 children between 7 and 15 for more than 30 years. Those with higher levels of fitness as children had higher levels of cognitive functioning in midlife, suggesting that establishing a lifelong habit of physical activity could be beneficial for brain health.

Together, these studies suggest the ways we move our bodies on a daily basis could add up over time. They also solidify the notion that regular, lifelong physical activity, in all of its forms, goes a long way toward reducing the risk of dementia, even for people who are classified as high-risk.

“Your brain is part of your body and is going to benefit from anything you do that is good for your general health,” Dr. Weintraub said.

Rachel Fairbank is a freelance science writer based in Texas.