HEALTH

Strength Training, Not Cardio, Helps Prevent Cancer: Study

Just two weight sessions a week could add years to your life.

02/11/2017 10:31 AM AEDT | Updated 02/11/2017 10:31 AM AEDT
Getty Images
Who would have thought the humble push-up could add years to your life?

It's an age-old debate: is cardio (such as running) or strength training better for you?

New research by the University of Sydney may have finally come up with an answer -- at least as far as promoting long life is concerned.

The researchers studied 80,000 adults over the age of 30, and found that strength training was significantly more likely than cardio to prevent premature death, especially cancer-related death.

Those studied who did strength training just twice a week were almost one third (31 percent) less likely to die from cancer. Their overall likelihood of dying prematurely from any cause also dropped by 23 percent.

While those who combined both aerobic and strength training had the best outcomes overall, aerobic exercises alone did not reduce a person's risk of dying from cancer.

Getty Images
People who do strength training at least twice a week are almost one third less likely to die from cancer.

Factors such as the person's age, health status and lifestyle factors like diet were taken into account when analysing the data.

"The study shows exercise that promotes muscular strength may be just as important for health as aerobic activities like jogging or cycling," lead author Associate Professor Emmanuel Stamatakis from the School of Public Health and the Charles Perkins Centre said.

"And assuming our findings reflect cause and effect relationships, it may be even more vital when it comes to reducing the risk of death from cancer."

The findings have been published in the American Journal of Epidemiology.

And there's more good news: you don't need to become a gym bunny to reap the benefits.

Exercises done at home using an individual's own body weight, such as push-ups, planks and pull-ups, were just as effective at promoting longevity as those done using machines at the gym.

M_a_y_a via Getty Images
People who worked out at home or the local park using own-body-weight exercises such as push-ups and squats benefited just as much as those who went to the gym.

"Many people are intimidated by gyms, the costs or the culture they promote, so it's great to know that anyone can do classic exercises like triceps dips, sit-ups, push-ups or lunges in their own home or local park and potentially reap the same health benefits," Associate Professor Stamatakis said.

But currently not many of us are reaping the potentially life-saving benefits.

Fewer than one in five Australians are doing the two strength training sessions a week required to meet the World Health Organisation (WHO)'s exercise guidelines.

Associate Professor Stamatakis wants a greater focus on strength training in Australian government and public health campaigns.

The findings add to a growing body of research on the many benefits of maintaining a strong physique and staying physically active.

A research review published in May found that those already diagnosed with cancer can also benefit hugely from regular strength training. It found that regular, moderate exercise incorporating both aerobic and strength training almost halves the likelihood of dying from cancer or of the cancer coming back.

And of course, there's loads of other benefits of exercise too -- from keeping you feeling young to warding off depression.

Ready to get pumping? Here are some exercises you can do, even if you lack fitness skills -- no gym required.

More On This Topic