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Endurance and Strength Training Vie in Combating Aging

Two recent studies, one published in the European Heart Journal and the other in Medicine and Science in Sport and Exercise, found that exercise combats aging, but focus on different forms of exercise and health considerations. One focuses on strength training and cardiovascular disease and mortality and the other on endurance training and cellular aging. Once again we see the two forms of exercise working together to extend our health span.

We wrote about the strength training study in our December 1, 2018, update, but revisit it here to neutralize the inclination to pit endurance and strength training against each other.

Dr. Daniel Vigil, a sports medicine doctor and professor of family medicine at UCLA, explained to Healthline in a down-home way why these studies are complementary: “One is ‘how can we explore ways to keep our bodies from aging?’ while the other one is ‘I don’t want to have a heart attack, the number one cause of death, I don’t want cardiovascular disease. What can I do to decrease my risk for that?’ ”

“Both are pretty important, relevant, and meaningful and should be on the minds of people who want to lead long, happy lives,” Vigil concluded.

Strength Training, CVD, and All-Cause Mortality

This study found that lifting weights for up to an hour a week may reduce risk of heart attack or stroke by 40 to 70 percent. More than 60 minutes of resistance exercise did not significantly add to risk reduction. The results show that the benefits of strength training are independent of running, walking or other aerobic activity.

The study was published October 29, 2018, ahead of print in the journal Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise.

Iowa State University Professor of Kinesiology Duck-chul Lee and his colleagues analyzed data from 12,501 adults (mean age 47) in the Aerobic Center Longevity Study. Subjects were examined at least twice at the Cooper Clinic between 1987 and 2006; they reported their exercise training (RE and aerobic) in medical history questionnaires. Three health outcomes were tracked for up to 10.5 years: cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke that did not result in death, all cardiovascular events including death, and any type of death. Resistance exercise reduced the risk of all three outcomes.

The researchers concluded: Even one time or less than one hour/week of RE, independent of AE, is associated with reduced risks of CVD and all-cause mortality. Body mass index mediates [facilitates] the association of RE with total CVD events.

Acknowledging surprise that just one hour per week of resistance exercise was enough to reduce cardiovascular disease risk, Lee noted the factors in play.

“Muscle is the power plant to burn calories,” he told Science Daily (November 13, 2018). “Building muscle helps move your joints and bones, but also there are metabolic benefits. I don’t think this is well appreciated. If you build muscle, even if you’re not aerobically active, you burn more energy because you have more muscle.” 

Muscles both consume and store blood sugar. Skeletal muscles are the body’s biggest consumer of blood sugar.

“Resistance training also helps prevent obesity and provide long-term benefits on various health outcomes,” Lee continued.

Endurance Training and Telomeres

German researchers led by Dr. Christian Werner reported January 1, 2019, in the European Heart Journal that endurance training and interval training—but not resistance training—increased telomerase activity and telomere length, and thus, healthy aging.

The research team randomly divided 266 young, healthy, but inactive volunteers into one of three groups:

1: Endurance training in the form of continuous running.

2: High-intensity interval training (4 minutes hard and 4 minutes recovery).

3: Circuit resistance training on machines covering all body parts.

Each intervention consisted of three 45 minute training sessions per week over six months.

*  * *

Maximum oxygen uptake (VO2max) was measured before and after the interventions--and increased in all three training groups.

Blood was drawn to analyze telomerase activity and telomere length at the start of the study and two to seven days after the final round in each training group.

Telomeres are important because they protect the ends of chromosomes from deteriorating. As a person ages, their telomeres shorten in length, marking a cell’s aging process. The enzyme telomerase works to fight against this shortening process, and when activated, can actually lengthen telomeres. By the end of the study, telomere length increased substantially and telomerase activity increased two to three times more in those who took on endurance or high-intensity training, but not after strength training.

The researchers concluded:

In summary, this randomized controlled training study shows that specific modalities of physical exercise mediate differential effects on regulators of cellular senescence. The activity of telomerase and TL is increased by endurance training and high-intensive IT but not after strength training. The data improve the molecular understanding of the protective effects of exercise in primary prevention and underline the potency of physical training in reducing the impact of age-related diseases. Telomerase activity is a sensitive parameter to measure preventive effects of exercise on the cellular level, both acute and chronic. Therefore, cellular senescence markers could be useful parameters to guide the efficacy of preventive exercise programs. The effects on clinical outcomes need to be scrutinized in a large prospective trial, taking potential differences of training modalities into consideration.

With regard to training recommendations for the prevention of cellular aging, our data support the...current guideline recommendations that resistance exercise should be [complementary] to endurance training rather than a substitute.

*  *  *

“[Our] study results absolutely do not discard resistance training as futile,” Dr. Werner told Healthline (Brian Mastroianni, December 10, 2018).

Werner said an exercise regimen with both types of workouts should be beneficial. “The mean increase in maximum oxygen uptake as a global indicator of fitness and a prognostic cardiovascular marker was comparable in all three exercise groups.”

As noted above, Dr. Daniel Vigil was more expansive, combining the Werner study and the results reported in Medicine & Science in Sport & Exercise:

“One is ‘how can we explore ways to keep our bodies from aging?’ while the other one is ‘I don’t want to have a heart attack, the number one cause of death, I don’t want cardiovascular disease. What can I do to decrease my risk for that?’ ”

“Both are pretty important, relevant, and meaningful and should be on the minds of people who want to lead long, happy lives,” Vigil concluded.

*  *  *

We often forget the part skeletal muscles play in moving blood around the body.

More working muscle means more blood flow and blood volume returning to the heart. https://www.cbass.com/heartmechanisms.htm

Photo by Guy Appelman

October 1, 2019

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