What really works to protect your heart, prevent diabetes, and lower high cholesterol
“Something’s always better than nothing.”
When it comes to exercise, that’s the message I want to drive home to my patients—and to you.
And if “something’s better than nothing,” then surely more is even better, right?
Believe it or not, that logic could get you into trouble. Because at the end of the day, it’s simply not true.
And that’s only one of the many harmful exercise myths keeping older adults from getting the most out of their exercise routine.
That’s why I want to take a little time to talk about some recent research that I suspect might come as a surprise—and may completely transform the way you think about exercise…
Running yourself into an early grave
A few years back, an eyebrow-raising study made serious waves in the fitness community. Why? Because it suggested that jogging too much is actually just as bad for you as not exercising at all.
Danish researchers behind the Copenhagen City Heart Study followed the health of nearly 1,500 joggers and “healthy” sedentary subjects for over a decade. A comparison of death rates revealed a few noteworthy trends.
For starters, light joggers—that is, people who ran at a slow or moderate pace, two to three times a week, for as little as an hour total—had a 90 percent lower risk of death than subjects who didn’t jog at all.1
Incredible, right? But get this: Moderate joggers only had a 60 percent lower risk of death. Still significant, but not nearly as beneficial as light runners.
And strenuous runners? Well, their risk of death didn’t drop at all… meaning that, despite their sweat and dedication, they were no healthier than your average couch potato.
Now, look… I’m obviously not saying that jogging is bad for you. The fact is, most people aren’t training for marathons every morning…
But, I mention this study to prove a couple points:
- There is such a thing as too much exercise.
- Intense daily cardio isn’t the secret to a healthy heart.
In fact, if you really want to protect your heart, you need to look beyond cardio altogether.
Pumping iron offers the best protection
You’d be surprised at just how much of an edge strength training has over cardio, particularly when it comes to heart disease prevention.
Using data from the 2005-2006 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, researchers looked at heart risk factors—including hypertension, excess weight, diabetes, and high cholesterol—for more than 4,000 American adults. They compared this data to reported levels of static and dynamic exercise.
Static exercises improve strength with intense muscle exertion and little to no body movement. Examples of this include strength training, stretching, or holding a push-up position.
Dynamic exercise involves high-movement activities that utilize the full range of motion of your joints. Examples include running, playing a sport, walking, or biking.
In the study, researchers found that those who engaged in both static and dynamic exercises fared better than subjects who only stuck to one. In fact, both exercises lowered rates of heart disease risk factors by as much as 70 percent in the participants.
But of the two, static activity delivered more cardiovascular benefits by a noteworthy margin. And according to another recent study, you don’t have to break your back to experience the positive effects.
This research analyzed data from nearly 13,000 subjects, and focused on three outcomes:
- Non-fatal cardiovascular events (like heart attack and stroke)
- Fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events
- Death by any cause
And yet again, weight lifting for less than an hour per week reduced the risk in all three categories between 40 to 70 percent. And that’s not all it did…
Further analysis showed that it also reduced the risk of metabolic syndrome by nearly 30 percent. And high cholesterol by nearly one third!
What’s more, these results were independent of any aerobic activities the subjects did. (Which means that if weight lifting was all you did, your heart would still be plenty happy.) And these gains capped off at an hour… which means that clocking additional time in the weight room won’t do you any more good.
The bottom line? Yes, I still want you to walk every day—and even run, if that’s what you enjoy. But make time to strength train as well. Because a few extra miles on the treadmill may not do much for your heart. But even 20 minutes of good old-fashioned weight lifting a few times a week will.
- “Dose of jogging and long-term mortality: the Copenhagen City Heart Study.” J Am Coll Cardiol. 2015 Feb 10;65(5):411-9.
- “Different types of physical activity offer varying protection against heart disease: Static activity, such as strength training, appears more beneficial.” ScienceDaily, 11/16/2018.
- “Associations of Resistance Exercise with Cardiovascular Disease Morbidity and Mortality.” Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2018 Oct 29.