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The Aerobic-Strength Balance

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In other words, you should include endurance training such as walking, jogging, cycling, and swimming, plus muscle-building exercises. The muscle-building component might involve calisthenics, such as push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups, or weight training of various types.

The aerobic or cardio respiratory endurance component of your exercise is extremely important because of scientifically proven health and longevity benefits, which may not be associated with other types of exercise. For example, studies in many scientific centers, including our own The Cooper Institute, have demonstrated clearly that the more fit you are – as measured by treadmill stress-test times for fitness – the lower your risk will be for mortality from all causes.1 In other words, the higher your level of aerobic fitness, the less likely you are to die prematurely from a heart attack, cancer, diabetes, or any other cause.*

But as you grow older, the proportion of strength work should increase. In other words, you should do more strength work and less aerobic work – but always keep in mind that by the time you turn 60, your aerobic exercise should still constitute at least half of your routine.

A major reason for this shift is that as you age, your bone density naturally declines and may put you at risk for osteoporosis. All weight-bearing exercise, including different types of strength training, will help you ward off osteoporosis by building up your bone mass. This danger of bone-thinning disease is especially serious for older women who are small-boned or have other risk factors, such as a fair complexion, northern European or Asian ethnic background, low percentage of body fat, and family history of bone disease. But the risk of a bone-loss disease is also very real for many men who are in their 60s or older.

In addition to helping ward off the osteoporosis threat, strength training is quite important to help older people maintain their ability to function well when confronted with tasks that require unusual muscle exertion. The better shape your muscles are in, the lower your risk of pulling or straining a muscle. Also, by keeping your muscles in shape, you’ll be less likely to lose functioning ability as a result of the natural process of aging. Among other things, you’ll maintain better balance and thus be less likely to take a dangerous fall.

When we speak to audiences packed with older people, we often say, “If, at 60 years of age, you’re a person who concentrates almost exclusively on aerobic conditioning, you may be able to run five miles in 40 minutes.  But, you may also find that you can’t pick up a sack of groceries without straining your back. So it’s essential to combine weight or resistance training with aerobic activity as you age.”

To head off such health threats, we advocate the following aerobic-strength training balance:

  • If you’re 40 years old or younger, devote 80 percent of your workout time to aerobic training and 20 percent to strength training.

  • If you’re 41 to 50 years old, shift to 70 percent aerobic and 30 percent strength work.

  • If you’re 51 to 60, do 60 percent aerobic exercise and 40 percent strength training.

  • After you pass 60, divide your workout time more evenly between the two strategies – while still giving an edge to aerobic exercise, which provides the most health benefits: 55 percent aerobic work and 45 percent strength work.

With this overview in mind, let’s take a closer look at what your start-up program should actually include in the way of both aerobic exercise and strength training.

Here are some specific thoughts about aerobic activity, strength training, and stretching for the beginner. Some of the exercises, such as the calisthenics and the stretching movements, can be used by beginners and by more advanced exercises.

Your Start-Up Fitness Plan in a Nutshell
When you finally settle on your personal fitness program, the end product should fit into this basic daily model – which you are certainly free to adjust as your endurance and strength increase:

  • Five minutes of warming up with walking or running in place, continuous stretching, or light calisthenics, such as jumping jacks.

  • Thirty to 40 minutes of aerobic activity or strength work each day.  (About three to five days per week should be devoted to aerobic exercise, two to three days to strength work. Alternatively, instead of devoting a separate day to strength work, the strength phase can be added after a particular day’s aerobic phase.)

  • Five minutes of cooling down, typically involving walking, continuous stretching, or light calisthenics.

For more information about Cooper Fitness Center, click here or call 972.233.4832.

*In recent years, the term “cardio exercise” has sometimes been used interchangeably with “aerobic exercise.” But the “cardio” term is something of a misnomer because it may suggest that endurance exercise has only cardiovascular (heart and blood vessels) benefits. In fact, our studies and those of other scientists show that aerobic (endurance) exercise provides health and longevity benefits that go well beyond the cardiovascular.

1. Blair el al. JAMA, 1989.