AICR HealthTalk: Warding Off Chronic Disease with Exercise

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AICR Health Talk is a feature of the American Institute for Cancer Research, a cancer charity that fosters research on the relationship of nutrition, physical activity and weight management to cancer risk, interprets the scientific literature and educates the public about the results. Questions are fielded by registered dietitian and certified dietitian-nutritionist Karen Collins, MS, RD, CDN.

Question: Do strength-training exercises provide the same kind of protection against chronic disease as aerobic exercises like walking?

Collins: Each of these types of exercise provide benefits, but we get the most health benefits by making sure to get both strength-training (resistance exercise) and aerobic exercise (such as walking, swimming and gardening).

Both seem to help your body use insulin better, which helps control blood sugar and reduces risk of type 2 diabetes. This affects other aspects of health, too, because the body doesn’t need to produce the high levels of insulin that seem to promote growth of some cancers and raise blood levels of triglycerides linked to risk of heart disease.

A lot of exercise research focuses on people with type 2 diabetes or prediabetes, because they are likely to have inflammation in addition to insulin resistance. Some research shows no difference between aerobic and strength-training exercise to reduce all of these health risks, and some research shows aerobic exercise slightly more effective. However, an analysis of 14 studies shows that the combination of both aerobic and strength-training exercise is the most effective.

Even when exercise does not lead to weight loss, it can promote health directly through all these beneficial effects, so don’t let the scale be your judge of how physical activity is “working” for you. Find ways to include aerobic physical activity every day and strength-training two to three days each week.

Photo by Earl McGehee

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