Healthy Aging and Exercise
Everyone knows that exercise is important for good health. It’s also important for weight control. Most of us think of aerobic exercise when we think of exercise at all: running, walking, swimming, dancing, playing basketball…all of these are examples of aerobic exercise. Also called “cardio,” this type of physical activity raises the heart rate, and boosts the body’s need for oxygen—hence the name aerobic, meaning “requiring free oxygen.”
Aerobic exercise tends to be the kind of activity that a reasonably fit person can sustain for extended periods. In contrast, weight training, or anaerobic exercise, involves activities that put intense demands on specific groups of muscles. Weight training—or strength training—is usually of shorter duration, and greater intensity, than aerobic exercise. Think of the challenge of walking five miles, versus the challenge of doing arm curls with a 25-pound weight. One may take hours; the other is likely to last just a few minutes, as tired muscles rapidly lose the ability to continue contracting.
Energy is generated differently in the muscles when we do anaerobic exercise. Both forms of exercise help build and sustain muscle mass, but anaerobic exercise does it more efficiently. In any event, research has consistently shown that both forms of exercise are necessary for optimal health. I’d be willing to speculate that most women who take the time to exercise focus more on aerobic forms of activity. But to maintain lean muscle, and boost one’s metabolism, it’s important to do some weight training This, in turn, makes it easier to maintain healthy body weight.
For example, a recent study looked at the effects of these two forms of exercise on long-term waist circumference changes in older men. Researchers concluded that engaging in both forms of exercise is crucial for healthy aging. Men who only engaged in aerobic exercise tended to gain greater waist circumference than men who did both kinds of exercise. "This study underscores the importance of weight training in reducing abdominal obesity, especially among the elderly," said Frank Hu, professor of nutrition and epidemiology at Harvard School of Public Health, and senior author of the study. "To maintain a healthy weight and waistline, it is critical to incorporate weight training with aerobic exercise."
Rania A. Mekary, Anders Grøntved, Jean-Pierre Despres, Leandro Pereira De Moura, Morteza Asgarzadeh, Walter C. Willett, Eric B. Rimm, Edward Giovannucci, Frank B. Hu. Weight training, aerobic physical activities, and long-term waist circumference change in men. Obesity, 2014; DOI: 10.1002/oby.20949