Cardio or Strength Training? Experts Says There’s No Debate on Which Is the Ideal Exercise After 50

Each type of exercise has its advantages when it comes to healthy aging.

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Pablo Martínez-Juarez

As we age, our bodies change, so it makes sense to adjust our exercise routines accordingly. While we often think of old age as a time for more relaxed exercises like walking to improve heart and lung health, there’s actually a wide variety of exercise options available to us even after turning 50.

One great example is strength training. According to the National Institute of Aging (NIA), you don’t need to lift heavy weights to benefit from this type of training. In fact, as per a study by the institute, after turning 50, building strength and endurance becomes crucial for maintaining our ability to perform daily activities and stay independent in the years ahead.

Muscle loss can lead to issues as we age. By the time we reach 70, an estimated 30% of adults may face difficulties with activities like walking or climbing stairs. The NIA also points out that this loss of muscle, known as sarcopenia, can contribute to falls and various chronic diseases.

It’s important to remember that while age-related muscle deterioration is inevitable, strength training can help us slow down its progression. Incorporating some exercises into our routines can be perfectly within our reach.

In its study, the NIA provides some tips on how to incorporate strength exercises into our routines. First, it’s important to know what to expect from our own bodies. “A 60-year-old is different from an 80-year-old. We need to be careful about lumping all older people into the same category,” Barb Nicklas, a gerontology expert at Wake Forest University School of Medicine, explains. “We need to adjust our expectations.”

Therefore, it’s important to be cautious and perform movements with care to avoid falls or fractures, especially when starting out. Activities such as tai chi and yoga can help us exercise our strength as well as our balance.

NIA-supported researchers also remind us to set realistic goals. They suggest aiming for 150 minutes of exercise per week, but it’s okay to set lower goals if they’re more achievable. According to Roger Fielding from Tufts University, a senior scientist in nutrition and exercise physiology, you'll still notice benefits even if you spend less time exercising.

Fielding also advises making the activity enjoyable. Consistency is crucial and can be achieved in two ways: First off, by having fun; and second, by incorporating these exercises into your routine.

Strength Isn't the Only Thing That Matters

When it comes to cardio, there are several exercises beyond just walking, including swimming, running, and dancing.

These exercises are beneficial for our cardiorespiratory health. According to Melinda Ratini, part of the WebMD medical review team, as we age, our maximum heart rate decreases by approximately one beat per minute per year, resulting in a 5% to 10% reduction in blood flow over a decade.

Engaging in cardio-focused exercises can help improve blood flow and oxygen circulation throughout the body, consequently reducing the risk of many diseases and increasing life expectancy.

The advice is consistent with previous recommendations: Incorporate exercise into your daily routine, engage in enjoyable activities, and set achievable goals. Additionally, the British Heart Foundation also suggests participating in group activities for added motivation.

So, what’s best for your health? You should consult with health specialists before starting moderate or intense exercise. Unless there are medical contraindications, combining different types of exercise is often a good practice.

As Minesh Khatri, clinical associate professor at NYU Long Island School of Medicine, explains to WebMD, a complete exercise plan should include aerobic exercise (like walking, running, or swimming), strength training (such as weight lifting), and stretching to maintain flexibility and joint health.

Different types of exercise complement each other, according to NIA-supported researcher Eric Shiroma, who recommends rucking as a simple way to incorporate strength training into our routine by adding a weighted vest to our walks.

Since health has many dimensions, exercising different aspects of our body will help us stay healthy in various ways. Age may set limits, but knowing our body and consulting with experts is key. The second key is to take action.

Image | Kampus Production

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