Courtesy United States Marine Corps Corporal Eric A. Ramirez
The older we get, the busier we often find ourselves, especially in our late 40s.
That’s when aging starts to strip our bodies of the muscle that protects us in old age and when work demands and family responsibilities gnaw away at our time. U. S. Marine Corps Colonel Joseph Galvin, 49, wrestles with this very dilemma every day. As a judge advocate, he’s often working on base at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina from around 7:00 A.m. to 6:00 P.m., and he’s married with two energetic sons, so even his downtime is active.
Galvin created a 14-hour-a-week regimen that keeps him in great shape: He’s the captain of the All-Marine Triathlon Team and has earned a perfect score on the Marine Corps Physical Fitness Test (PFT) for 25 years in a row. His most recent results: 24 pullups without a rest, 167 crunches in two minutes, and a three-mile run in 17 minutes and six seconds. The good news is that new research reveals you don’t have to train as intensely as Galvin does to gain the life-extending benefits of strength work and aerobic training. But there’s still
a lot to learn from the colonel.
Test Yourself Often
Taking an annual strength and cardio test like the PFT enables you to track your fitness. If, like Galvin, you’re training in a group with people half your age, even better—you’ll have more motivation.
The PFT includes options. (The maximum/minimum scoring ranges for men are noted.)
1. Max with good form: pullups (23/3) or pushups (87/20)
2. Two minutes of crunches (115/40) or a plank (three minutes, 45 seconds/one minute, 10 seconds)
3. A three-mile run (≤18 minutes/33minutes) or a 5,000-meter row (≤18 minutes/26 minutes)
Redline It, Sometimes
Galvin competes in both Olympic-length triathlons and Half Ironmans and typically runs, swims, or bikes for about an hour a day, starting at 4:45 A.m. He alternates steady sessions with high-intensity intervals and does a longer session on the weekend. The benefits of cardio for longevity are well-documented: Research from the Cooper Institute established that a man’s midlife fitness, measured by his one-mile completion time, is a strong predictor of long-term heart health. Aim for a time of under eight minutes. Other research is adding unexpected insights. A study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology followed more than 55,000 adults over a 15-year period and found that compared with nonrunners, people who run had a 45 percent reduced risk of death from a heart attack or stroke, as well as a 30 percent reduced risk of death from any other cause.
What’s surprising, says Stuart Phillips, Ph.D., a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University who studies longevity, is that the data showed that you actually get a lot of the health benefits if you run for only about 50 minutes a week. It’s smart to use some of that time doing high-intensity work. In a Mayo Clinic study, researchers found that high-intensity aerobic intervals are particularly good at helping your body slow aging. Intervals boost your mitochondrial function, which declines with age, and give your muscle cells vigor. In the study, people did four rounds of four-minute maximum intensity on a spin bike, with three minutes of active recovery.
Do at least 90 minutes of cardio per week, and vary the intensity from sessions where you can talk while you’re exercising to intervals where you are out of breath.
Fortify Your Armor
Galvin typically does ten minutes of core before his cardio every day and a 30-minute strength circuit after. Historically, researchers believed cardio was more valuable than strength training for health span, but now the two are seen as equally important and complementary, explains Phillips. “The list of diseases for which being stronger is a preventive measure includes metabolic syndrome, heart disease, cancer, anxiety, and depression,” he says. One measure of strength that is associated with longer life is the number of pushups you can do without stopping. A JAMA Network Open study revealed that people who could do more than 40 were 96 percent less likely to have a cardiovascular-disease event over ten years than those who couldn’t do ten. “Pushups test your strength in relation to your weight and so are a good indicator of your physical condition,” says study coauthor Justin Yang, M.D., M.P.H., an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University.
Two 30- to 45-minute strength sessions per week are enough to extend health span, says Phillips. But for the greatest benefit, do three or four. Doing regular abs work is critical, because a strong core improves your stability. One of Galvin’s favorite core circuits is plank, crunches, lying leg lift, side crunches, and Russian twist; do one minute each for two rounds.
This story first appears in the April 2022 issue of Men’s Health.
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