Can You Guess the Best Workout for Anti-Aging?

by Jodi Helmer
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Can You Guess the Best Workout for Anti-Aging?

We can’t deny it: Your body reacts to each additional candle on your birthday cake. As you age, your cell function decreases, bones lose density, joints show signs of wear and muscle tissue and strength decrease while body fat increases. You might not be able to turn back the clock, but you can slow the effects of aging on your body through exercise.

“Both strength and power training are critically important as we age,” says Alice Bell, PT, DPT, a spokesperson for the American Physical Therapy Association. “In order to effectively manage the impact of aging on muscle strength and power, it is critical to incorporate high-intensity strength training into your activity regimen.”



New research shows that certain forms of exercise have the most profound anti-aging effects.

A study, published in the journal Cell Metabolism, assigned participants in two age groups — 18–30 and 65–80 — and divided them into three training categories: high-intensity interval training (HIIT), weight training or a combination of the two.

After three months, researchers compared muscle biopsies of both groups and found that strength training increased muscle mass and HIIT increased mitochondrial activity, a cellular process that declines with age and is associated with increased fatigue and inability for muscles to burn excess blood sugar. The HIIT/strength training combination had the biggest effect in older adults, helping to decrease aging at the cellular level.

In a statement about the research, K. Sreekumaran Nair, MD, a diabetes researcher at the Mayo Clinic and senior author of the study noted, “These things we are seeing cannot be done by any medicine.”

The research points to the benefits of incorporating HIIT and strength training into your routine as you get older.

“The rate at which we lose muscle mass varies dependent upon our level of activity and engagement in meaningful exercise,” Bell says.

In other words, you’re more apt to maintain muscle mass and keep body fat in check as you age if you’re physically fit.

To maximize the benefits, Bell suggests incorporating HIIT and strength training into each workout.

HIIT is defined as mixing intense bursts of exercise with short periods of active rest; a run-walk combination is a good example of HIIT. Interval training can be incorporated into activities ranging from walking and biking to swimming. These bursts keep your heart rate up and help burn fat and, according to Bell, “High-intensity interval training is considered one of the best ways to improve cardiorespiratory and metabolic function.”


Strength training is also important to maintain good health as you age. A 2016 study published in the journal Preventive Medicine found that older adults who did strength training at least twice per week had a 46% lower odds of death from all causes during the study period, a 41% lower risk of cardiac death and 19% lower odds of dying from cancer than those who did not strength train.

Bell suggests building strength by training with weights 2–3 times per week. “In order to optimize results a person must be utilizing the appropriate amount of resistance, performing the exercises with proper [form] and building in recovery time,” she says.

A physical therapist or personal trainer can create a workout regimen that incorporates interval and strength training that is targeted toward your current fitness level. The effort could help keep you looking and feeling stronger, healthier and younger.


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  • Kathy Carlssen

    Exercise doesn’t solve every problem. My brother’s weight is the same it was in high school. He plays golf regularly and cycles 50-80 miles every weekend for the past 4 years. He’s signed up for the Tour de Iowa next month. He died yesterday morning during his daily 6 am workout. The other fellows at the field did CPR until the ambulance arrived. They said he never said one word or opened his eyes. I feel so sorry for his wife not to say goodbye. He was only 58. Exercise isn’t always the answer.

    • So Angry

      Deeply sorry for your loss. Exercise isn’t the answer to every ailment but you are considerably reducing the odds of illness & early death by keeping fit. Your brother may have died even younger had he not been exercising regularly.

      • Kathy Carlssen

        Thanks , SA. You are indeed correct. Exercise didn’t speed up death. It was just coincidence that he was jogging at the time. Thanks for your kind words to help keep a better perspective on the situation. Hope you are well today.

      • Alan J Krawitz


    • Jas

      Far out. I NEVER reply to forums on the internet as I just browse and read other people’s comments. Don’t even have a Facebook account. But I had to reply seeing it was just 9 hours ago you posted that. I am soooo sorry for your loss and whoever you are or wherever in the world you may be, I hope you look after yourself, be strong and try to remain in positive spirits. May your brother rest in peace.

      • Kathy Carlssen

        Thank you, Jas. I didn’t expect replies. I was just so shocked to read this article within hours of getting the phone call about my brother. I am doing better now. The kindness of strangers is just as valuable as that from neighbors. Thank you so much for your comforting words.

      • Kathryn

        Amen. So sorry, Kathy.

    • Lhami

      I am so sorry for your loss, I know how hard it is to lose someone too soon. I lost my 12 year old son to an undiscovered heart defect — he was the picture of health, just went to school passed out and never woke up. My thoughts and prayers are with you and your family.

      • Kathy Carlssen

        Dear Lhami, You have my hearty sympathy. That must have been so painful for you to experience. And of course the loss continues to this day. I hope you are able to find comfort. I do not underestimate the usefulness of prayer.Thank you very much for your kind words.

      • Charlotte Boudria

        I have a friend who lost her son the same way. How heart breaking. I am so sorry for your loss.

    • Charlotte Boudria

      I also am so sorry for your loss. How terrible.

      • Kathy Carlssen

        Thank you Charlotte, for your kind words. The shock is going away, the loss not so much.

    • Mary-Beth Esser

      And another person wishing you condolences and the sweetness of memories along with the sadness of loss. May you and your family go forward with loving thoughts of your brother.

    • GoFigure

      Kathy, I could not agree with you more. An attorney I once had the pleasure of working with was an avid cyclist and hiker. He died mid-court during pick up basketball at 48 and our CFO dropped dead at 45 on a treadmill at our onsite gym. Both men were fit as can be. I look around at friends and family that are in their 80s-90s, rarely if ever exercised, but kept their weight in check by diet and maybe an occasion round at the golf course. I don’t discount others for going all out, as for me I’m walking.

    • Ann Zevnik

      I’m really sorry for your family’s loss. It was certainly a shock. This tragic story underscores the need for even apparently healthy people to get regular medical checkups. The absence of symptoms does not equal perfect health.

    • Janet Kaye LeMaire Price

      So sorry for your loss…
      No, exercise is not always the answer..

  • Kathy Carlssen

    Thank you gentlemen for your kind words. I appreciate it very much.

  • Eric King

    A key finding by researchers is that you can gain muscle using light weights if you just do enough repititions so that you cannot do any more. many people shy away from weights because of not wanting to hurt themselves now they have found you can get the same results by just lifting a light weight more times.

    I now do a heavy set followed by a light set and have seen improvement where I had been stuck for years doing only heavy wieghts, because with light weights it is easy to up the number of reps without damaging anything.

    • robinbishop34

      With all due respect… this is total nonsense.

    • Fred Bishop

      I do 3 sets of 10-12 reps during most workouts.

  • Kathy Carlssen

    Thank you, Geri. Your kind words of comfort are appreciated.

  • Kathy Carlssen

    Many thanks for your kindness.

    • Alan J Krawitz

      Kathy, first, I’m very sorry for your loss…It’s always tough losing family members. I lost both parents within last year. However, while of course, exercise isn’t the answer to everything, I think that the costs of not doing it are far greater than exercising regularly and in moderation. There will always be exceptions to everything and some research has even shown that too much exercise can actually be bad for you. I.E. running guru Jim Fixx died of a heart attack, etc. But, there are far too many casualties in this country who succumb because they were too sedentary and lived their lives on the couch or online. Moderation is key…but I’m still a firm believer in “eating less, exercising more,” as a general rule. Again, my condolences on your loss.

  • Dee Allen

    At age 60, the barre classes widely available – I specifically like Barre3 – seem to be adaptable to all ages and flexibility levels and meet this criteria. I can highly recommend.

  • David Claude Warlick

    This article seems to be an example of really bad science. The researchers divided the participants into groups including high intensity interval training. From this, the researchers concluded that high intensity strength training is critical. Wouldn’t the results be more conclusive if the researchers had tested HI strength training rather than HI interval training?

  • Kevin McCullough

    This is just another fluff article. I always close one eye when I read “study shows”…..

    When it boils down to it, any exercise, low processed flower & sugar diet, portion control is all you need.

    No one lives forever.

    • Judy Pancoast

      Personally, I don’t eat a lot of flowers, although I’ve heard some people do……

  • Judy Pancoast

    I just turned 58 and have been doing strength training for a year. I feel so much better and look so much better for it. But you should warn older women that some of these exercises- like the one pictured above—-well, let’s just say you might want to wear some leakage protection!

    • Maureen Revene

      ha! funny but accurate

      • margey

        Oh so true..

  • Kenny

    A lot of discussion about physical benefits of exercise. I find it helps my mental state which I believe is most important to a “healthy” life. You must be mentally fit to take on a physical challenge and then I believe one feeds off the other. Feel good about yourself for every effort you give.

  • David McIlhenney

    The question remains what is light and what is heavy. I think most people get these results between eight and 12 repetitions. As long as it is challenging to point that the 13th repetition is not possible. Also, time under tension needs to be considered. I agree with John. My form is always much better with low reps then with higher ones. I tend to only feel tweaks or injure myself on higher reps than I do lower reps under control. Although I also agree with Eric doing a heavyset followed by a light set (a.k.a. drop sets) are fantastic and take training to another level!

  • Jim

    Next week I will be turning 68 and have been doing Orange Theory workouts for about 1 1/2 years. I have reduced running from 6 days @ 6-8 miles a day to about 1/2. The HIIT + resistance has been a great workout. Major change in upper body strength and appearance plus a lot more energy for the 10-12 hour work day habit. Also a great help in balance and coordination. Thanks OTF and Bill Pierce and Scott Murr (Train Smart, Run Forever) for showing me the benefits of full body conditioning.

  • James Dolen

    One significant challenge is, as the article mentions, that with aging comes the necessity of longer recuperation periods. No amount of stretching can change this. Neither can more or better sleep, nutritional supplements used in the Andes, improving social connections, or anything other than the passage of time.

  • Helen Fagan

    Just for the sake of discussion, I am a 66-1/2 year old woman, still working 6 hours a night doing cleaning, mopping, vacuuming, stairs (18 of them, I counted), collecting garbage, not for the faint of heart. Walk the dogs every morning in a hay field about 3200 steps, do DDP Yoga every other day…….would you consider this a good workout??

  • S B

    while not for everyone, bikram yoga could fulfill this as well.