You probably do your best to work out when you can, but life has a funny way of interfering with your ability to log some serious time at the gym. Still, when most people do get time, they typically focus on cardio, like going for a run, biking, or hitting the elliptical, over lifting weights. But now a new study suggests it’s important to throw some strength training into the mix too.
The research, which is published in the American Journal of Epidemiology, followed 80,000 adults and found that people who did strength-based exercises like push-ups and sit-ups had a 23 percent reduced risk of premature death and a 31 percent reduced risk of dying from cancer. As a result, the researchers argue that strength training might be as important for your overall health as cardio.
It doesn’t even take a lot of strength training to reap the benefits: The study found that people who did two or more sessions of gym-based or body-weight strength exercises per week were the most likely to have better health. The researchers also discovered that body-weight strength exercises (like push-ups, sit-ups, tricep dips, and lunges) were just as effective as exercises people did on gym equipment, making it easier for people to get these perks at home.
Strength training tends to be cardio’s neglected counterpart, but it shouldn’t be, Albert Matheny, MS, RD, co-founder of SoHo Strength Lab and adviser to Promix Nutrition, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. In fact, he points out, you can train your cardiovascular system at the same time as you’re strength training, but the reverse is rarely true. And, he adds, you have a lot to gain, health-wise, from building lean muscle via strength training. “Lean muscle helps you improve you blood sugar control, increase your metabolism, and increase you physical strength, and stability,” Matheny says.
This doesn’t mean you should ditch aerobic exercise entirely. A Mayo Clinic study published earlier this year found that people who did interval training, which combines cardio and strength-based exercises, had improved aerobic capacity, enhanced energy, enlarged muscles, and decreased markers of aging. “It’s good to do it all,” Bert Mandelbaum, MD, an orthopedic surgeon at Kerlan-Jobe Institute in Los Angeles, a USA team doctor at the World Cup and the Olympics, and author of The Win Within: Capturing Your Victorious Spirit, tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “A combination of interval training that’s not exclusively aerobic or anaerobic in conjunction with a strength program seems to be associated with the best health effects.”
Squeezing a little strength training into your day is easier than you’d think — you just have to make it a priority, Matheny says. He recommends doing pull-ups, planks, and sets of squats during commercial breaks when you watch TV. You can also do lunges while you brush your teeth, or make it a personal goal to do sit-ups before bed every night. Once you find these little moments in your day, it becomes pretty easy to fit in strength training.
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