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I get this question asked of me all the time and the answer really depends upon what is meant by delaying the aging process.
There are really only two types of exercise that we can discuss that produce several different adaptations inside the human body. The first is cardio-pulmonary exercise like running, walking, cycling and rowing and second is weight (resistance) exercise which involves applying various forms of external resistance against the body.
Now, from a physiological/metabolic perspective, there is a certain degree of overlap between the two forms of exercise RWT their inherent effects upon our own body’s ability to adapt to an exercise stimulus.
Cardio exercise allows your heart muscle, blood vessel walls and lungs the opportunity to improve oxygen carrying capacity to your organs including muscles while improving the capacity to remove the associated waste products. The effects of cardio upon your body are also very much associated with the intensity of activity and the speed at which your muscles require oxygen.
Most cardio is performed at approximately 60% maximum heart rate and this target zone is more closely related with the utilization of stored body fat and weight-loss. However, weight-training is completed with the intent of improving muscle and joint adaptations like improved strength, tissue growth and stability.
Weight-training typically is not really associated with the loss of body fat but more the increase in muscle and bone tissue. Whereas cardio improves body composition and weight-loss by selectively targeting body fat stores.
These are the common presumptions regarding the effects exercise have upon aging and body composition.
Are they completely accurate?
Successful aging implies having a strong cardio-vascular system not just to prevent heart disease and control body fat accumulation but to maintain the functional requirements of living a youthful life. Weight-training is important to maintain muscle and bone tissue volume, joint strength while providing a viable reservoir for caloric expediture.
Remember, the more muscle you have the greater number of calories you will expend at rest.
New research published in the Journal Obesity recently indicated that otherwise healthy men who exercised using just weights for 20 minutes each day experienced less of an increase in abdominal body fat compared with men who just performed cardio for the same time period. However, the combination of both types of activities yielded the best results. It was also discovered that cardio exercise was better than weight training alone in the prevention of weight gain.
The accumulation of abdominal body fat is an ominous sign of aging in either gender which carries with it significant risk factors for future metabolic disease.
Using the scale is often misleading (as is your BMI) while measuring your waist circumference (or hip-waist ratio) often times is much more accurate at assessing body composition and future health risks.
This new research also indicated that weight-training combined with cardio could help older adults lose abdominal body fat while increasing or maintaining valuable muscle mass. The reason that this new research finding is so important is that it was conducted upon a healthy population of older adults (40 or greater), contained a very large sample size (10,500) and assessed activity, waist circumference and body weight over a 12 year period.
In my opinion, this is one of the best studies conducted upon healthy aging adults yet to be published.
Incidentally, those participants who spent the greatest periods of time sitting, watching television or engaging in sedentary activities had the largest amounts of abdominal body fat and a larger waistline.
So…after all of this the answer is….both types of activities are important for successful aging including reduction in disease risk factors.
Dr. Kevin. J. McLaughlin
Clinical Director: The Vitality Project