Surprising Longevity Insights from a New Fitness Study

In Health-Mastery by adminLeave a Comment

A friend sent me this new and important study and asked my thoughts.

Given that it delivers a somewhat controversial opinion about too much strength training being detrimental I thought this was worth diving into and sharing with you.

The study is Training Strategies to Optimize Cardiovascular Durability and Life Expectancy published in the March-April 2023 issue of Missouri Medicine.

It is a systematic review and meta-analysis meaning it is not just a clinical trial, but looking at the evidence of all available recent clinical trials and even other meta-analysis.

The intro reads, “Physical activity is one of the key factors for achieving and maintaining cardiovascular (CV) health and improving both life expectancy and healthspan—the period of one’s life spent in good health free from disabilities of aging. However, the ideal duration and intensity of PA, and types of exercise for optimizing lifelong CV health, longevity, and healthspan are unknown.“

There’s a lot of good stuff in here.

The study concludes with some eye-opening quick tips of years of research. Here the seven points are:

  1. Physical fitness is the single best predictor of life expectancy and healthspan. Try to achieve and maintain a high level of physical fitness throughout life.
  2. More is better for moderate-intensity exercise with respect to CV health and life expectancy. Vigorous exercise is also beneficial for optimizing life expectancy and healthspan, but maximal benefits are achieved at 150 minutes/week.
  3. HIIT is a time-efficient strategy for attaining and maintaining high-level CRF. Regular participation in team sports or other forms of physical interactive play is associated with good mental health and longevity.
  4. Shoot for at least two hours/week spent outdoors in natural settings (green spaces or blue spaces). Gardening and adopting a dog are practical strategies for accomplishing this goal.
  5. Aim for two sessions/week of strength training for a cumulative time of about 40 to 60 mins/week, ideally not exceeding 150 mins/wk.
  6. Incorporate flexibility and balance training sessions like yoga or tai chi.
  7. Allow ample time for rest, relaxation, recovery, and sleep after strenuous exertion.

I’m going to breakdown these points in more detail and give my thoughts.

Too Much Strength Training is Bad for You?

One of the perhaps most controversial parts of this study was this statement…

“A large meta-analysis showed that strength training was independently associated with lower rates of all-cause mortality and CV disease, though the best outcomes were associated with a cumulative dose of about 60 minutes/week.”

Diving deeper we see that this points to yet another meta-analysis that looked specifically at resistance training. This one is titled, “Muscle-strengthening activities are associated with lower risk and mortality in major non-communicable diseases: a systematic review and meta-analysis of cohort studies”.

What they found was that resistance training for about 30 to 60 minutes each week can really help your health. It was associated with lower chance of dying:

  • By any cause by 17%
  • Lowered heart disease events by 18%
  • Lowered cancer risk by 9%
  • Lowered risk of diabetes by 17%

When people mixed strength training with aerobic exercises the benefits were even better.

Yawn. Nothing groundbreaking yet.

However, they found there’s a limit to these benefits. If you do strength training for more than 60 minutes there were decreases in benefits. At about 130 to 140 minutes a week, the health benefits were gone, and mortality increased after that.

This was shown in this J-shaped mortality curve.

The best benefits came from between 40 and 60 minutes of resistance training.

More than that not only didn’t add further benefit, but actually diminished the benefit.

The exception to this was with diabetes which did see greater returns on longevity with more training, in more of an L-shaped curve. Still 60 minutes of resistance exercise did deliver most of the benefits.

The original study also states, “Another study showed that lifting weights once or twice a week is good for your health, but doing it three or more times a week doesn’t add any extra benefit.” This one is available here, however the abstract doesn’t mention this nor is it available to dive in deeper.

Okay, so now onto my thoughts about this stuff.

Can you strength train too much? Absolutely. I mean, you can kill yourself by drinking too much water so most things there is a point of too much.

One thing to keep in mind is that this is “conventional resistance training”. In other words basically bodybuilding type of stuff done in a gym, likely using machines.

It’s quite different from much of the stuff recommended here at Legendary Strength from bodyweight training, kettlebells, oldtime strongman and more.

All of this stuff includes those other elements such as balance, flexibility, skill and play that are equally important as strength or resistance as the original study dives into and that we’ll cover more coming up.

There certainly are no meta-analysis’ looking at this kind of training!

Therefore some more time is warranted.

But overall, I think the findings are pretty sound, and I’ve echoed them myself over the years. You don’t need to spend a lot of time doing this stuff.

For instance, The 80/20 Strength Challenge, is specifically 60 minutes per week. That’s it.

And to celebrate this new science backing that you can save 40% off to get that course by using the coupon code LONGEVITY.

Right now I’m probably only spending about 60-90 minutes doing all my fitness stuff per week.

Another important thing to realize is that this is association not causation.

Did the extra resistance training cause people to die more?

Not likely, though I admit there is some possibility to that. Here’s my guess as to what may be confounding this…

A lot of people that spend too much time in the gym, aka the typical gym rat, may be engaged in some other unhealthier activities. Bodybuilding, for instance, is not really a healthy sport.

Therefore, this could be leading to some of the decreases.

Secondly, a lot of people that spend so much time in the gym are likely doing so for armoring purposes. This is a generality, but many can be compensating for emotional wounds that in turn are correlated with higher disease risk.

Those are some of my hypothesis’. I’d love to hear yours as well in the comments below.

Balance and Flexibility

This meta-analysis looks at such things but separates them out as different. Useful for science to categorize, but not so much for fitness that ought to be holistic for health.

So here’s some of what they talk about…

“Balance is an aspect of fitness that has been shown to decline steeply starting about 50 years of age. The ability to balance one’s body can be assessed by simply standing on one leg. In a prospective study of 1,702 individuals followed for seven years, the ability to successfully complete the 10-second one-legged standing test was independently associated with all-cause mortality.”

Something as simple as balancing on one leg is associated with less all-cause mortality.

This gets to the whole elderly stereotype of “I’ve fallen and can’t get up”, which unfortunately is actually deadly in some cases.

And what if we go even further in doing something like balancing not on one leg but on the hands?

They also cover the Sitting-Rising Test (SRT) which I’ve covered at length over the years. Interestingly, I found out about this research only after I had created my Stand Up Challenge course.

My course goes far beyond the basics to teach you progressively complex ways of rising off the ground, taking more strength, balance, mobility and flexibility. To celebrate this new science backing that you can save 40% off to get that course by using the coupon code LONGEVITY.

In the Sitting-Rising Test (SRT) you get a score from 0 to 10 based on how easily you can sit down on the floor and then stand up again. The trick is, you lose points if you need to use your hands, arms, or knees to help you.

There was this big study with 2,002 people aged between 51 and 80. They found that folks who scored low on this test were more likely to have health problems and even a higher risk of dying over the years they were followed.

In fact, most of the people who passed away during this study had low scores. You can see just how important a higher score is here.

In fact, in that study only two people died in the 6.3 follow-up years that had a perfect score.

So is it resistance training or balance training if you’re doing pistol squats? Yes, it’s both.

Practicing these kind of things is very likely worth it.

We’ve still got much more to dive into with this analysis including HIIT, grip, aerobics, play, socialness and nature.

Grip Strength for Longevity

The authors state…

“Grip strength has been proposed to be useful biomarker of aging. Strong observational evidence suggests that grip strength is an accurate way to assess current and future strength, physical functionality, bone mineral density, risk for fractures, and vulnerability to hospitalization. Grip strength is also highly predictive for multiple health outcomes including all-cause and disease-specific mortality, and surprisingly, even cognitive function. Weightlifting, gardening, and competitive sports are all practical strategies for maintaining or improving robust grip strength.”

‌This shouldn’t come as a shock to readers of Legendary Strength.

‌But let’s go point by point into more detail.

‌Of course, we’re talking correlation not causation here. If you have someone on their deathbed, they’re not going to have a strong grip.

‌Most people, as they age, they do less, and thus muscle wasting, even bone wasting, occurs. Do less and over time and they can do even less.

‌This applies to all forms of movement, like the aforementioned ability to get off the ground easily, but also applies to the grip.

‌This impacts not just strength but bone density. More so than even diet or hormones, strength training provides the signal for the muscles and bones to become stronger.

(See my recent article about osteoporosis here.)

‌With muscle and bone strength, you’re less likely to end up in the hospital. Avoiding hospitals is key to your health!

‌They state that it is surprisingly correlated with cognitive function. But this isn’t surprising to me.

‌Our hands can move in so many amazing ways, far more than the rest of the body. So much of our neurology is dedicated to the hands. Therefore, to have healthy hands does help in having a healthy brain.

‌Weightlifting is going to help. Grip specific exercises, which few people do, are going to specifically target this area more so.

‌Of course, just because you can close a heavy gripper, or bend steel with your hands, doesn’t mean you’re guaranteed to live to 100. I’m sure at some point there is a drop-off in how much additional hand strength helps. A point of diminishing returns.

‌But if gardening and most sports can lend a hand here (pun intended) what can a bit more training in this area specifically do?

‌Where do you get started with grip strength? My book, The Master Keys to Strength and Fitness gives the basics, as well as so much more that will help in training for longevity. Today, you can save 40% off to grab the physical or ebook by using the coupon code LONGEVITY.

HIIT, Cardio, and Heart Attacks

Next up is the topic of cardiovascular fitness. We see here that, like with weightlifting, the evidence points to there being too much.

“This Harvard School of Public Health study that included 116,221 individuals assessed 15 times during 30 years of follow up suggests that if one’s goal is optimizing long-term CV health and overall longevity, more is better for moderate-intensity exercise. However, the same cannot be said for vigorous exercise, where optimal benefits are achieved at approximately 150 minutes/week. MPA typically includes activities like walking, hiking, gardening, housework, dancing, shopping, golf, pickle ball, doubles tennis, volleyball, and leisurely bike riding. In contrast, VPA typically involves strenuous bicycling, running, or swimming, or high-intensity interval training (HIIT), singles tennis, basketball, or other activities that cause heart-pounding, sweat-producing, breathlessness.”

So do you want to be doing moderate (MPA) or vigorous physical activity (VPA)?

Both. It’s just that the latter shouldn’t be too much. Like with resistance training there is a point of not only diminishing returns, but decreased returns.

Moderate vs Vigorous Physical Activity

But notice that that is 200 minutes a week.

HIIT like hill sprints or a kettlebell snatch test tends to take a lot less time then something like strenuous bicycling, running or swimming. Truthfully they’re talking more long distance cardio than sprint-type of work.

“This fits well with the hypothesis of extreme exercise cardiotoxicity/cardiac overuse injury, which is particularly relevant for middle-aged and older individuals. A large amount of vigorous exercise, though required for attaining peak physical performance, may not be necessary for maximizing life expectancy and cardiac durability. Very strenuous exercise acutely increases the risk of CVD events (myocardial infarction, sudden cardiac arrest) particularly for individuals who are in mid-life and beyond.”

We’ve all heard the stories of marathoners dropping dead while running. Uncommon, but still enough that everyone has heard of it.

But this is especially important since the year 2021 when there was something that occurred that started to raise the number of people that suddenly dropped dead due to heart problems.

It’s still a small number that this occurs to overall, but nevertheless devastating each time it occurs.

This data doesn’t change my opinion on how I train much at all.

Long distance cardio is over-rated. High intensity anaerobic work is going to give you much more bang for your buck.

These are covered in more detail inside of The Ultimate Guide to Bodyweight Conditioning Exercises. You can grab the book or ebook of that now for 40% off with the coupon code LONGEVITY as well.

But I do want to cover more of what they talk about as the moderate physical activity. Notice on the chart that the more the better.

Play, Nature and Social Life

Next up we cover some of the lesser focused on attributes involved in physical fitness. The first of which is play.

“The best types of exercise for improving life expectancy and mental health appear to be social sports such as tennis, golf, badminton, pickleball, soccer, basketball, volleyball, softball, touch football, baseball, and group exercise. The activities that involve interactive physical play not only improve fitness, but also promote interpersonal bonding and reduce stress.”

While these are a far cry from strength training, it’s really all about movement. Such games involve moving around in various ways, aka being mobile.

While some are much more so than others (tennis compared to golf for instance) all involve movement.

Move more and you’ll be healthier.

Unlike the strength training or high intensity training, here it seems that the more the better.

Important to these are not just the movements themselves, but that such sports are always played with other people. Socialness may indeed be the most important factor for health, because we humans are social creatures.

We often think of play as being something child-like. And so it is that the more you play the more youthful you tend to be.

Something that is covered here at Legendary Strength a lot is that this element of play can be brought into your workouts. Whether you’re with other people or not, it doesn’t just have to be about grunting and straining.

Next up, nature…

“Growing evidence suggests a positive association between time spent in natural environments and good mental and physical health. A recent study assessed the dose-response relationship of “nature therapy” by focusing on the amount of time spent by 19,806 adults during a typical week outdoors in green spaces like parks, woodlands and countryside or by blue spaces such as lakes and beaches. Those who spent ≥120 minutes/week in nature were 59% more likely to report good health and 23% more likely to report wellbeing compared with those who reported spending no time in nature. The authors concluded that spending at least two hours/week of outdoor recreation time may be a threshold for achieving the nature dividend for health and wellbeing.”

This should be no surprise if you’ve read Powered By Nature. I talk about much the same thing there.

If you haven’t read it, what are you waiting for? You can grab Powered By Nature with Use the coupon code LONGEVITY to save 40% off.

So spend time out in nature. Get the sun on your body. Breathe the fresh air. And move!

“[E]xercise performed in nature appears to be more psychologically beneficial than physical activity in other locations.”

Working out in a gym is great. But doing so outdoors is even better, if your health is concerned. While there are physical benefits, here they point to the psychological ones. Reduced stress, feeling better, clearer thinking, etc.

So that will wrap it up for this study. Again, nothing is really surprising here. In fact, this high-cost research just confirms the type of stuff I’ve been sharing for years. But the important thing is to put it in practice.

Go back up to the summary of points at the top of this article. For today, just ask yourself, what one thing should I start doing or change in what I’m doing for a bit more longevity in my fitness?

Leave a Comment