EXERCISE FOR LONGEVITY & HEALTHSPAN. WHAT’S BEST?
In my last article, I discussed the benefits of regular exercise, and why moving more should be a priority for all of us. As many of you will know, I’m an avid runner, but I’m also the first to acknowledge that for many of my patients I see in clinic, running may not be the best activity for them, and may not be the first choice for many of you reading this. Strange though it seems to me, running doesn’t make everyone tick. Here are some basic guidelines, and some facts that you may find surprising.
All adults should aim for 150 minutes of aerobic activity per week. Broken down that’s basically half an hour on 5 days of the week. You may also be surprised to hear that the benefits are not lost when those 30 minutes per day are broken down further into 10 minute bouts. It’s my strong belief that even the most time-crunched type A workaholic can find 10 minutes here and there throughout the day, to get a little sweaty, to get a little breathless. Brisk walking, an easy jog, riding your bike, hiking, swimming, tennis, XC skiing, snowshoeing are all great options.
In terms of intensity, you need to get a slight sweat going, and you need to struggle to complete full sentences, but it doesn’t have to be an all out sprint! Some people need to build up to this, and of course, make sure you’ve checked in with your family doc to ensure your heart and lungs are up to it if you’re completely new to exercise. If you’re a total novice start with 2-3 times per week, and build up. And for goodness sake, find something that’s enjoyable! This is supposed to be fun, and should leave you feeling invigorated and looking forward to the next session.
In addition to your aerobic activities, I recommend twice weekly resistance exercise. By that, I mean lifting weights, whether that be free weights, or body weight exercises (pushups, pullups, sit ups). The wellness industry has for decades promoted the benefits of cardiovascular exercise for health, but recently, increasing data suggests that if you want to live longer, strength is king! This is somewhat of a paradigm shift for most of us!
A Hawaiian study with 44 year follow up, showed that for middle age adults, those in the highest 30% for cardiovascular fitness, were only about 10% more likely to live to the age of 100 years. Of those middle age adults, if they were in the highest 30% for strength (as measured by leg and grip strength) then, incredibly, they were 250% more likely to live to see 100 years. These numbers are mind-blowing and several subsequent studies have confirmed the findings; the results appear to be accurate.
So, it seems that improved cardiovascular fitness reduces the risk of cancers and Alzheimer’s disease, but doesn’t increase lifespan, whereas strength training gives you longevity. The best recipe - include a bit of both as described above. If you’re going to the gym, aim to lift heavy, as that will promote big gains in strength; and of course, be sure to get some advice if you are new to lifting.
On that note, I’m off to hit the gym for a few deadlifts and squats; I’m not all run, run, run…..