In my last column, I reviewed a recent study review published in 2019 in the journal Frontiers in Physiology. This review examined the impact of resistance training on our risk of developing chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, cancer, and mobility disability. These are some of the most prevalent chronic diseases we encounter as we age and most of the current exercise recommendations focus on the performance of aerobic exercise with often secondary recommendations for other forms of exercise such as resistance training, balance training, etc…

Briefly, for those who didn’t catch the last column, resistance exercise is defined as exercises which involve using your body weight or external weight to improve muscular strength and endurance. Examples of resistance training are lifting free weights, using weight machines, performing squats, and more. Aerobic exercise, on the other hand, is usually well known and includes exercises such as running, walking at a quick pace, biking, swimming, and more. Many of the current recommendations for exercise for older adults seem to prioritize aerobic exercise. But is this best? Or would a more balanced recommendation prioritizing both aerobic and resistance exercise be best?

For physical mobility, the review found that combined programs with an equal focus on both aerobic exercise and resistance exercise are superior to either aerobic or resistance exercise programs alone. This is to say that performing both will help you continue to be able to walk, get up from a chair without assistance, climb the stairs and more as you get older. This is extremely important as continuing to be able to move well will be key to continuing to exercise and fend off other chronic diseases. However, due to some of the drawbacks of the studies included, resistance training may be best for the goals of maintaining and improving physical mobility as we age. You can reference the column on for further details.

Now, onto one of the most prevalent chronic disease in older adults, type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is a disease where your body becomes resistant to insulin or stops producing insulin, a hormone that is vitally important in triggering the uptake of glucose (think blood sugar). Uncontrolled type 2 diabetes leads to too much glucose in the blood which can damage your eyes, kidneys, and nerves, resulting in serious complications such as lost limbs, kidney failure, and more.

Type 2 diabetes is primarily a lifestyle disease, though there is a genetic component that can predispose people to development of the disease. The Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a program developed to help reduce the risk of those with prediabetes from developing type 2 diabetes, includes primarily lifestyle modifications (diet and exercise) and is demonstrated to reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Data from studies on the DPP found that after only 3 months of 2x a week of progressive, whole-body resistance training that 34% of prediabetic overweight/obese older adults achieved normal glucose tolerance. Another study included in the review that analyzed 32,000 men between the ages of 40 and 75 years found that men who performed at least 150 minutes per week of resistance training had a 34% lower risk of developing diabetes over an 18 year period.

As for the comparison between aerobic exercise and resistance training, the review highlighted a study that compared the impact of an acute bout of aerobic exercise and an acute bout of whole-body resistance exercise on glucose levels and found that while aerobic exercise decreases the levels the most initially, the resistance exercise group maintained lower levels over the 24 hour period following the bout of exercise.

While there are only a few studies that compare aerobic exercise versus resistance exercise, the authors note that there is significant decrease in risk of developing type 2 diabetes with performing resistance exercise so a comprehensive program involving both aerobic exercise and resistance exercise is likely best.

Check back at my next column as we cover the remaining two chronic diseases highlighted in this study review, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Nick McClary earned his doctor of physical therapy from the University of Tennessee. He also holds a masters in business administration. He lives in Pawleys Island and works in Georgetown. Send him your health and fitness questions at: