Kent Probst, BS, MEd
Kent Probst is the owner of Long Healthy Life Blog
Best Exercise for Longevity: What to Think About
Questions a lot of people ask: How much should I exercise for health and longevity and what is the best exercise for longevity?
The optimal amount of exercise is unclear, and is different for each individual. But it’s clear that exercise improves longevity.
There isn’t one “right workout” for health and longevity. In other words, there is no magic bullet.
A multifaceted approach will serve you well when it comes to healthy aging.
You should also ask yourself: What do I want to be able to do late in life?
What are your goals?
There are some guidelines to follow when determining the best exercise for health and longevity.
Best Exercise for Longevity: Designing Your Program
1. Functional Fitness
At its most basic meaning, functional strength training is resistance exercise that increases strength in your musculoskeletal system for the purpose of improving your activities of daily living.
It’s important for you to avoid the functional decline that comes with aging. This is why you need functional fitness to remain functionally independent late into life.
To stay functionally independent late in life, your workout should improve or maintain function.
If you’re a deconditioned senior who is new to exercise, you may want to consider the Senior Fitness Test.
The components of the senior fitness test can detect functional decline before it becomes a serious problem.
The Senior Fitness Test assesses aerobic fitness, agility, dynamic balance, and flexibility.
A personal trainer, therapist, or other trained health care professional can administer the test.
Designing a fitness routine based on the results of the Senior Fitness Test will allow seniors to improve or maintain their functional activities such as stair climbing, walking, self care, as well as recreational activities.
Functional exercise can provide the following benefits:
- Reduced risk of injury
- No need for expensive equipment
- Better coordination
- Postural improvement
Your workout should be based around your individual needs, so each person’s workout will vary.
Functional exercises should mimic your functional activities.
Here are three examples of functional strength training exercises:
Medicine Ball Squat with Overhead Lift
Half Kneeling Wood Chop
If muscular endurance is your goal, 10-15 repetitions is a good range. For strength, focus on 6-8 repetitions. Functional strength training can be done 2-3 times per week.
Consult a personal trainer or therapist who specializes in functional training if you need help designing an exercise program that incorporates functional fitness.
The important thing to remember is that your exercise program has functional elements that improve your functional activities.
2. Strength Training
If you’re not doing regular strength training, and you’re over 30, you’re losing muscle mass.
Most people lose 3% to 5% of their muscle mass per decade after age 30.
Age-related loss of muscle mass is known as sarcopenia.
A sedentary lifestyle accelerates sarcopenia.
Strength declines 10% to 15% per decade until age 70. After age 70, loss of strength accelerates to 25% to 40% per decade.
Muscle protein synthesis and repair capacity decline with age. Muscular endurance diminishes by 10% per decade.
There’s also a loss of type II (fast twitch) muscle fibers. The fast twitch muscle fibers are responsible for short burst activity.
Increased muscle mass is associated with significantly lower all-cause mortality in people over age 55.
In addition to increased muscle mass, other benefits of strength training include:
- Increased walking speed
- Improved cognitive function
- Better balance
- Improved stair climbing ability
- Improved mood
- Increased bone density
- Improved weight management
- Increased grip strength
The benefits of resistance exercise are many, including improving cognitive function.
Here are the ways resistance exercise helps cognitive function:
- Increased blood flow to the brain.
- Increased angiogenesis (formation of new blood vessels)
- Increased neurogenesis (formation of new neurons)
- Increased production of neurotrophins (proteins that improve survival of brain cells and help with brain plasticity).
During resistance exercise, something else occurs – greater production of neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters such as serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid, and acetylcholine function to help learning, memory, sleep and mood.
Strength Training Parameters
For beginners, 8-10 multi-joint exercises, or compound exercises, that target the major muscle groups is a great starting point, 2-3 times per week.
Optimal range of repetitions for hypertrophy, or building muscle mass, is 6-12.
10-15 repetitions is a good range for people over 50.
Beginners can start with 2-3 sets per exercise. More advanced people can do 4 to 6 sets per exercise.
Allow 48-96 hours rest between workouts.
Your body temperature peaks between 4pm and 6pm, and it’s believed to be the reason pliability, speed, and strength peak during this time frame.
Therefore, the optimal time for resistance training is 4pm to 6pm.
3. Cardiovascular Endurance
The relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) and longevity is well established. Having a high level of CRF is associated with living longer.
In a 23 year study published in JAMA, the participants who had the highest cardiorespiratory fitness had the lowest mortality rates from all causes.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous cardiovascular exercise to significantly reduce the risk of disease.
Moderate intensity is 40%-59% of heart rate reserve (HRR) and vigorous intensity is 60%-89% of HRR.
To calculate your target heart zone:
- Maximum heart rate = 220 minus your age
- Measure resting heart rate in one minute
- Calculate heart rate reserve (HRR) by subtracting resting heart rate from maximum heart rate
- Multiply HRR by 40%. Add your resting heart rate to this number.
- Multiply HRR by 59%. Add your resting heart rate to this number.
- These two numbers are your target heart zone for moderate intensity cardiovascular exercise
Modes of cardiovascular exercise should involve major muscle groups such as running, swimming, bicycling, cross country skiing, stair climbing, high intensity interval training (HIIT), or walking.
Frequency: 3-5 days per week. Regular cardiovascular exercise is instrumental in achieving a healthy body composition.
A word of caution: Chronic excessive cardiovascular exercise, such as frequent marathons and triathlons, can result in problems such as myocardial damage, myocardial fibrosis, coronary calcification, and atrial fibrillation.
Flexibility is one of the five components of physical fitness. This is the ability to move your joints unimpeded with full range of motion (ROM) without pain.
While normal ranges of motion are established for all joints, flexibility differs from person to person.
Every person has different needs regarding flexibility, but everyone should make flexibility a component of their fitness regimen.
Regular stretching has been shown to provide the following benefits:
- Improved Postural Stability
- Better Balance
- Improved Injury Rehabilitation
- Improved Range of Motion
- Injury Prevention
General Stretching Guidelines
- Stretches should be held for 10 to 30 seconds for measurable results.
- Each stretch should be done 3 to 5 times.
- The recommendation for frequency is 2 to 3 times per week.
- Stretches should be done without pain.
A fitness routine without flexibility will eventually catch up with you.
When your muscles get tight and your movements become restricted, your quality of life will decline.
It only takes a few minutes to incorporate flexibility into your routine.
As a consequence of aging, balance tends to deteriorate. This means loss of sensory ability and motor control, as well as a decline in musculoskeletal function from sarcopenia.
The risks associated with poor balance include falling and fracturing a bone.
Annually, about 300,000 Americans over age 65 fracture a hip and are hospitalized. 95% of hip fractures are the result of falls.
Reducing the risk of fractures is another reason you should incorporate balance into your exercise for health and longevity. People with good balance tend to see the following benefits:
- Improved posture
- Better athletic ability
- Less musculoskeletal pain
Your exercises should be geared toward improving balance.
For example, your strength training and cardiovascular exercise should challenge your balance.
Weight bearing exercise such as step aerobics or stair climbing will improve balance more than riding a stationary bike.
Strength training with free weights will do more for balance than using a weight machine that involves sitting.
Participating in sports will challenge your balance and improve muscular endurance levels.
Exercise Your Way to Longevity
It’s important to remember that your exercise regimen should be multifaceted.
Most people can exercise safely without first visiting a doctor.
If you’re not exercising regularly and you have cardiovascular, metabolic or renal disease, or signs or symptoms that suggest you do, you should get medical clearance before commencing exercise.
Need help designing a workout? The American Council on Exercise has resources to help you find a fitness professional.
By including the five elements outlined here, you can craft an exercise program designed for longevity.
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