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Actively Aging: The Synergy of Adding Resistance Training to Cardio Exercise

Actively Aging: The Synergy of Adding Resistance Training to Cardio Exercise

A Longer and Healthier Life

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is essential at any age, but as we grow older, it becomes even more crucial to prioritize physical activity. Cardio exercise, such as running, swimming, or cycling, has long been celebrated for its numerous health benefits, including cardiovascular health, weight management, and improved lung function. However, recent studies have shown that combining cardio exercise with strength training can amplify these benefits, ultimately leading to a longer and healthier life. In this article, we will explore the proven advantages of cardio exercise for older adults and investigate how adding strength training to the mix can further enhance their well-being.

The Scientific Foundations of Cardio Exercise

Cardiovascular exercise, commonly referred to as cardio, has long been lauded for its scientifically proven health benefits, particularly for older adults. Let's first examine the benefits it brings to the table for older adults with a quick look at the science behind each claim:

The Benefits of Cardio - Backed by Science

Cardiovascular Health: Research has unequivocally established the positive effects of regular cardio exercise on the cardiovascular system. Engaging in aerobic activities like jogging, swimming, and cycling enhances heart health by improving blood circulation, lowering blood pressure, and reducing the risk of heart diseases and strokes.

A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology (JACC) revealed that individuals who engaged in consistent cardio exercise exhibited a significant reduction in cardiovascular risk factors, such as hypertension and high cholesterol levels.

Weight Management: Cardio workouts are highly effective in burning calories, aiding in weight management. Maintaining a healthy weight is crucial for preventing obesity-related health issues, including type 2 diabetes.

A study in the journal Diabetes Care demonstrated that regular cardio exercise leads to improved glycemic control and reduced body weight in individuals with type 2 diabetes, highlighting its profound impact on weight management.

Respiratory Function: Cardio exercise enhances lung capacity and function, which is especially beneficial for older adults, including those with respiratory conditions.

Research published in the American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine found that individuals who engaged in regular aerobic exercise experienced significant improvements in lung function, making it easier to breathe.

Cognitive Function: Recent studies suggest that cardio exercise may play a vital role in supporting cognitive function and reducing the risk of age-related cognitive decline, including conditions like dementia and Alzheimer's disease.

Research published in the journal Neurology reported that older adults who engaged in cardio exercise had a slower rate of cognitive decline and a lower risk of dementia compared to sedentary individuals.

Mental Well-being: The psychological benefits of cardio exercise are well-documented. Engaging in aerobic activities triggers the release of endorphins, reducing stress and alleviating symptoms of depression and anxiety.

A study in the journal JAMA Psychiatry demonstrated that individuals who incorporated regular cardio exercise into their routine had a significantly lower risk of developing depressive disorders.

Better Sleep: The positive impact of cardio exercise on sleep quality has been well-documented, facilitating restful sleep, which is essential for overall health.

Research published in the journal Sleep Medicine Reviews highlighted the role of regular aerobic exercise in improving sleep patterns and promoting better sleep quality.

Increased Energy Levels: Regular cardio exercise has been shown to boost energy levels, helping older adults stay active and engaged in daily life.

A study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise indicated that consistent aerobic training led to significant improvements in overall energy levels and reduced fatigue in older individuals.

Live Longer: Cardio exercise, even at minimal effort, can yield substantial benefits in reducing mortality risk. 

One study published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine revealed that even as little as one hour per week of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity can lead to a significant drop in mortality risk, with the most substantial reduction observed at three hours per week. 

Resistance Training: A Longevity Enabler

The connection between strength training and longevity has remained relatively unexplored in the past, primarily due to the limited number of people engaging in regular resistance training. However, recent research is starting to catch up, shedding light on the remarkable benefits of strength training, even in older age.

The Benefits of Resistance Training and Evidence-Backed Claims

Increased Muscle Mass: Sarcopenia, the age-related loss of muscle mass, is a common concern among older adults. Strength training effectively counters this muscle loss by promoting muscle growth and maintenance.

A study in the journal Journals of Gerontology demonstrated that consistent resistance training led to a significant increase in muscle mass in older individuals.

Bone Health: Strength training places stress on bones, stimulating bone growth and increasing bone density. This is particularly crucial for older adults, as it reduces the risk of osteoporosis and fractures.

Research published in the journal Osteoporosis International highlighted the positive effects of strength training on bone mineral density, emphasizing its role in maintaining bone health.

Functional Independence: Strength training enhances functional fitness, making daily activities such as lifting objects, climbing stairs, or getting up from a chair more manageable.

A study in the journal Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics showcased the impact of resistance training on functional independence in older adults, highlighting its role in maintaining an active lifestyle.

Metabolic Boost: Building muscle through strength training can increase metabolic rate, aiding in weight management and overall energy expenditure.

Research published in the journal Obesity demonstrated that resistance training led to improved metabolic health, with participants experiencing significant reductions in body fat percentage.

Enhanced Balance and Coordination: Strength training improves balance and coordination, reducing the risk of falls, a significant concern for older adults.

A study in the Journal of Aging and Physical Activity found that resistance training enhanced balance and reduced the risk of falling in older individuals.

Lift to Live Longer: A consistent exercise routine consisting of resistance training has been linked to a reduction in mortality risk.

A recent meta-analysis, published in The British Journal of Sports Medicine, quantified the effect of strength training on longevity independent of aerobic activity. This analysis found that engaging in 30 to 60 minutes of strength training per week led to a 10 to 20 percent reduction in the risk of mortality, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.

The Synergy of Cardio and Strength Training: Recent Scientific Insights

A recent study published within the Journal of American Medical Association has shown that, independent of aerobic physical activity, adults over 65 years old who did resistance training 2 to 6 times per week lived longer than those who did less than 2 times per week.  The study, conducted over nearly eight years with a participant pool exceeding 100,000 individuals, aimed to understand the relationship between various forms of exercise and mortality risk in older adults. Participants were surveyed about their engagement in both aerobic and resistance training activities. Here are the key findings:

  • Resistance Training Matters: Those who engaged in resistance training at least 2 times per week experienced a remarkable 10% lower risk of mortality.
  • Aerobic Exercise Counts: Individuals who met the aerobic guideline of more than 150 minutes per week at moderate intensity or over 75 minutes per week at high intensity had a 24% lower risk of mortality.
  • The Power of Synergy: Participants who adhered to both the resistance training and aerobic exercise guidelines enjoyed the most significant benefits, with a remarkable 30% lower risk of mortality.
  • Age Is No Barrier: These results held true across all age groups, even for individuals over 85 years old. In fact, those over 85 who met both guidelines experienced a 28% lower risk of mortality.

The implications of these findings are profound and underscore the importance of incorporating strength training into the lives of older adults, even those that are actively engaged in cardio exercise. While cardio exercise primarily focuses on the heart and lungs, strength training complements this by reducing blood pressure and improving blood vessel function. Cardio exercise burns calories, while strength training boosts metabolism. This combination creates a highly effective strategy for weight management, aiding in the maintenance of a healthy weight. Cardio exercise maintains muscle endurance, while strength training builds muscle mass. Together, they ensure a balanced approach to muscle and bone health, reducing the risk of muscle loss, fractures, and osteoporosis. The synergy of cardio and strength training enhances overall functional fitness, leading to improved mobility, stability, and flexibility. Daily activities become more manageable, promoting independence. Additionally, the endorphins released during cardio exercise, coupled with the sense of accomplishment from strength training, contribute to improved mental well-being and a positive outlook on life.


The science highlighting the connection between resistance training and longevity in older adults is a game-changer in our understanding of healthy aging. Strength training, once an underappreciated aspect of fitness for seniors, has emerged as a crucial component of a longer and healthier life. Incorporating regular resistance training can help seniors maintain their independence, prevent muscle loss, and reduce the risk of age-related health issues like osteoporosis.

Additionally, the scientific evidence is unequivocal: cardio exercise and strength training each offer a plethora of health benefits for older adults, from cardiovascular health to muscle maintenance. However, the true magic lies in their combination. When cardio and strength training are harmoniously integrated into a fitness regimen, they create a powerful synergy that not only enhances physical health but also contributes to a longer and healthier life. Achieving longevity is not merely about adding years to life; it is about adding life to years through the profound impact of scientifically grounded exercise practices.

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