The role of exercise in improving health is well-established.
For years, the government has recommended 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity a week as part of their Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
However, one aspect getting more attention for its health benefits is strength training or resistance training. There’s a good reason that the guidelines include two or more days of muscle-strengthening activities that work all major muscle groups — the arms, shoulders, chest, back, abdomen, hips, and legs.
Being stronger protects your body as you get older.
Balance, flexibility, and bone health can decline with age, and the National Institutes of Health says these are where resistance training can deliver benefits.
A recent review in the British Journal of Sports Medicine examined another area where training might benefit you as you age: Reducing the risk of major chronic health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, and some forms of cancer, including lung cancer.
For their review, the researchers assessed the results of 16 individual studies with participants who ranged in age from 18 to 97. Each study was on resistance training and its impact on health in individuals without severe disease.
And the results?
It became clear that 30 - 60 minutes of resistance training a week significantly impacted the risks of chronic health conditions, such as heart disease and diabetes. Study participants had a 17% lower risk of diabetes when they did muscle-strengthening activities each week. The risk for lung cancer seemed to go down in a similar fashion, dropping by 10% among the resistance trainers. Overall, the risk of dying from heart disease and cancer dropped by 10 - 20% among those who regularly performed strength training.
Kristopher J. Paultre, M.D., a family medicine and primary care sports medicine specialist with the University of Miami Sports Medicine Institute, says the study results align with what most doctors recommend regarding resistance training. But he’d like to see a little more research in this area.
“While the results are encouraging, it doesn’t really draw any conclusion about what exercises are most helpful, and what amount of resistance training is the right amount,” he says. “I’d love to see more research that isolates these specific diseases and provides a little more detail on what provides the most benefit.”
Nevertheless, Dr. Paultre agrees with the idea of resistance training as an essential part of disease prevention. Specifically for diabetes prevention, he says the science is solid.
“With regular strength training, you are increasing muscle mass while decreasing fat stores and insulin sensitivity,” he says.
“That is absolutely going to help for diabetes.”
If you’re new to strength training, Dr. Paultre recommends consulting with your primary care provider or a personal trainer first. This will help you get the basics of doing exercises safely and with the proper form, which reduces injury risk.
Dr. Paultre is also a proponent of HIIT (high-intensity interval training) exercises, which are available in a wide range of options from beginner to advanced.
“The advantage of HIIT is that it can offer both resistance and aerobic exercise from the same workout, so it provides both beneficial types of activity in one workout. This is especially important for heart health, where resistance training must be paired with aerobic activity to provide the most benefit.”
Wyatt Myers is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.