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To Live Longer, Do Those Sit-ups

New study finds major benefits for longevity and cancer prevention with simple strength training

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A recent study found that combining strength training with aerobic exercise gave a greater reduction in the risk of premature death than did aerobic exercise on its own.
Grady Reese/Getty Images

If you consider your daily fitness walk essential while putting bicep curls and squats on the back burner, a new study suggests that for everything from longevity to cancer prevention, you really need to do both.

The study of 80,000 adults over age 30, which appeared this week in the American Journal of Epidemiology, was the largest yet to compare the mortality outcomes of different types of exercise. It found that combining strength training with aerobic exercise gave a greater reduction in the risk of premature death than did aerobic exercise on its own.

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What's more: Two sessions a week of activities of body weight-bearing exercises like sit-ups, push-ups or weight lifting — without any aerobic exercise in the mix at all — reduced the risk of premature death by 23 percent and of cancer-related death by 31 percent.

The study's lead author, Emmanuel Stamatakis of the University of Sydney’s School of Public Health, told that the results change the view of strength training as something that’s functionally important — say, to preserve muscle tone as we age — to a habit that might be as important as jogging or cycling for reducing death from a variety of outcomes. 

Neil Johannsen of the School of Kinesiology at Louisiana State University told AARP: "While past research has shown that lean mass, or more specifically, the maintenance of lean mass, is extremely important for maintaining quality of life and independence as we age, this study adds to that body of literature by demonstrating that strength training also reduces the risk of early mortality and diseases such as cancer."

So how much exercise is enough? The study measured how well participants followed the World Health Organization's guidelines for exercise, which closely mirror those by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. In both, adults are advised to engage in 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity weekly (or 75 minutes of more vigorous activity weekly), as well as muscle strengthening of all major muscle groups at least twice a week. If that sounds daunting, know that Stamatakis stressed that you potentially can reap the same health benefits shown in the study from classic exercises — like triceps dips, sit-ups, push-ups or lunges — at home as you can from lifting weights at a gym.

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