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Strength training is as important to your health as cardio

A new study shows that incorporating muscle strengthening exercises into your workout routine could add years to your life.
Doing push-ups and sit-ups two times a week could increase your lifespan. Photo: ISTOCK

If you’re already doing regular cardio three to five times a week, good job. 75 to 150 minutes of moderate to high intensity exercise that elevates your heart rate — like running, swimming, fast biking — is the recommended weekly amount, according to guidelines from the American Heart Association, and is associated with a decrease in cardiovascular disease and related deaths. The more active you can be and the less time you spend sitting, the better. 

But new research published in the American Journal of Epidemiology suggests the cardio isn’t enough. You should also incorporate basic strength training into your weekly workout routine.  

The study from the University of Sydney surveyed over 80,000 adults and found that those who participated in regular strength-based training were 23 percent less likely to die from any cause, and 31 percent less likely to die from a cancer-related death. 

"The study shows exercise that promotes muscular strength may be just as important for health as aerobic activities like jogging or cycling," said lead study author, Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis. "And assuming our findings reflect cause and effect relationships, it may be even more vital when it comes to reducing risk of death from cancer."

You don’t need to lift weights at the gym to get the health impact, the authors note. Strengthening exercises that use your own body-weight, such as sit-ups and push-ups, HIIT and plyometrics, are just as effective as weight-based training. Balancing a regimen of cardio and strength training is also key in preventing injuries. 

The authors recommend following the World Health Organization’s Physical Activity guidelines, and adding at least two days of muscle strengthening activities to the suggested 75-150 minutes of weekly cardio.

Time to roll out the mat.