Throughout most of the 20th century, it was a commonly-held belief that aerobic exercise was the key to health. That idea isn’t wrong, but it might not be the most correct way of thinking about things.
In the past couple of decades, research is beginning to turn towards a different perspective: the amount of muscle mass you have as you age is more correlated with health than your aerobic fitness.
You don’t need to be a massive bodybuilder to stay healthy, but building and maintaining muscle as you get older seems to be the key to avoiding disease and other causes of mortality, such as falls. Jogging, swimming, cycling, and walking have always been seen as the best forms of activity for health, not the weight room.
There’s a lot of nuance to this view. For example, if you aren’t active but then start jogging, you’ll build leg muscle. However, if you strength train exclusively then switch to jogging exclusively, you might lose muscle. This is particularly true as you age (aging leads to a natural decrease in muscle mass).
The good news is that, as you age, you can build and maintain the muscle you do have. The big difference is that it takes a lot longer to build muscle. This doesn’t mean you should give up on cardio, there’s nothing wrong with aerobic workouts. It simply means that strength training should get more priority.
As the Baby Boomers age, they carry with them many old thoughts and habits regarding diet and exercise. While many of their beliefs aren’t entirely wrong, exercise science has evolved enormously since they were younger. Unless you’re an avid researcher, it’s hard to keep up.
Baby Boomers are also the folks that currently need strength training the most, so it’ll be interesting to see if this new way of thinking about health and fitness can reach them. Lucky for you, dear reader, you’re now more informed!
Even if you’re not a Boomer, this knowledge is important. The vast majority of people don’t need to worry about gaining too much muscle, so keep lifting weights as often as you can! There are many other cognitive and physical benefits.