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Cardio is Great, But Don’t Forget Strength Training

Two African-American woman exercising together in a city park, by a large fountain on a city waterfront

By now, you probably know that exercise is medicine. Regular physical activity has many health benefits and may help you live longer. But it’s not just aerobic exercise like running, walking and biking that are great for your body. Strength-training exercises are important, too.

A recent study found that while doing either aerobic or strength training exercise could help you live longer, doing both types of exercise had an even greater longevity benefit.

The findings were based on federal health surveys of more than 400,000 people. The study further validates physical activity guidelines that urge adults to get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and two sessions of strength exercises weekly for good health.

A Powerful Combination

“It’s the combination of aerobic exercise and strength training that’s really helpful,” says University Hospitals sports medicine specialist Allison Schroeder, MD.

It’s not hard to see how strength exercises are important to health. Keeping your major muscles strong helps control blood pressure and blood sugar. It helps boost your metabolism, reducing body fat, Dr. Schroeder says. It also reduces risk of osteoporosis and lower back pain.

“Strength training helps slow muscle loss that typically occurs as we age, which down the line helps prevent falls and sedentary behavior that can lead to chronic medical problems and mortality,” she says.

“As we age, we lose muscle mass. With strength training, you continue to keep those muscles built up, which in turn allows you to be more physically active.”

Many older adults, in particular, don’t embrace strength training, even if they participate in cardio (aerobic) exercise religiously. “Older adults can be intimidated by strength training exercises,” Dr. Schroeder says. “You get weaker as you age, especially if you haven’t done strength training exercises in a long time.”

Lifting Heavy Weights Not Required

Strength training need not be intimidating, Dr. Schroeder says. Lifting heavy weights isn’t necessary to get a good workout. Working out with light dumbbells or using your body weight to exercise is very effective.

“Many people don’t realize how easy it is to do strength activity. You don’t need gym equipment to be able to get your 30 minutes in,” Dr. Schroeder says.

Some examples of strength-training exercises that use your body weight include:

  • Push-ups
  • Arm circles
  • Planks
  • Pull-ups
  • Sit-ups/abdominal crunches
  • Squats
  • Lunges
  • Step-ups

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends the following for a strength-training routine:

  • Choose 8-10 individual exercises to cover the major muscle groups. (See the exercises listed above)
  • Do 8-12 repetitions per set of exercise, with 2-3 sets.
  • Aim for 2-3 training days per week, with a rest day in between.

Strength and Cardio Workouts

People who want a combination cardio and strength workout may do so through continuous movement in a circuit training program. That may involve a circuit of strength exercises, along with a cardio activity such as a treadmill or stationary bike.

High-intensity interval (HIIT) training incorporates a range of workouts featuring short bursts of high-intensity activity. But high-intensity training is rigorous and not recommended for everyone. Always check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise or strength-training regimen.

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At University Hospitals, our fellowship-trained sports medicine specialists, primary care doctors, nutritionists, sleep experts and other healthcare professionals ensure the very best in health and medical care for active people. Learn more about sports medicine services at University Hospitals.