Most health guidelines promote a combination of both aerobic and strengthening exercises. Aerobic exercise has long been associated with decreased mortality but until now, the same relationship had not been thoroughly explored for strength training.
A new study by Stamatakis et al. followed more than 80,000 people, for an average of 9 years, to examine the effects of strengthening exercises on lowering mortality risk. Researchers monitored the participants exercise habits via questionnaire. Strength exercises included both gym-based and bodyweight style exercises (push ups, sit ups). Any participant deaths up to 2011 were recorded and the cause of death was noted as either all-cause, cancer, or cardiovascular specific.
The current World Health Organization Physical Activity Guideline recommends 150 minutes of aerobic exercise and two sessions of strengthening exercises per week. Only 5.5% of the study’s participants managed to reach these minimum requirements. 36.2% were completing only the required aerobic activity while 3.4% were strength training twice a week but not meeting the aerobic exercise requirements.
For those that did participate in some form of strengthening exercise, their all-cause mortality was reduced by 23% and their cancer-related mortality by 31%! The mortality risk for those participating in strengthening and aerobic exercises was lower than the aerobic alone, suggesting that strengthening exercises can offer additional benefits on top of traditional aerobic health benefits. Similarly, those exceeding the minimum guidelines of strength training two times per week seemed to procure additional health benefits versus those completing the minimum requirements.
This study found that both gym-based and bodyweight exercises yielded similar results for reducing mortality risk. Some of the biggest barriers to strength training are time, cost, and lack of knowledge. Many bodyweight exercises can be performed anywhere with minimal or no equipment making it both convenient and affordable. Examples of well known bodyweight exercises are push ups, chin ups, sit ups, squats, lunges, bridges, step ups and planks. While there are many variations of these exercises, they are all safe for the majority of people (depending on injury and medical history) and can easily be progressed or regressed to suit individual capabilities.
Importantly, this study only looked at individuals over the age of 30. Strength training tends to be more common in younger populations and declines with age, often in favour of aerobic exercise. Ironically, maintaining strength as we age is more important than being strong while we’re young. Strength is highly correlated with function and mortality, especially in the elderly. For example, losing the leg strength to stand up without assistance may mean that a wheelchair is required for mobility. Once wheelchair bound, elderly people will often experience a rapid decline in their aerobic conditioning that significantly increases their mortality risk. Maintaining strength will help to preserve independence and foster increased activity levels that can actually be life-saving.
Frankly, 5.5% of people hitting the MINIMUM required physical exercise is an embarrassing statistic. Even when taking all age groups into consideration, the Australians meeting the minimum WHO guidelines only rises to 15%. To the 30-50% of you that are already hitting your 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week, great job! Consider adding in a couple days of strength training to your normal routine and further decreasing your all-cause and cancer mortality risk. For those who are regularly strength training, make sure you compliment it with some aerobic exercise to reap the cardiovascular benefits. For everyone else, the New Year is fast approaching, so why not make an early resolution? You get 168 hours each week. Aiming to dedicate 2.5 of these to some moderate aerobic activity and another 1-2 hours to some strength training should be a very achievable goal. This investment into less than 3% of your time will literally be adding years to your life!
Do you need a hand getting on top of your strength, or dealing with an injury that is hindering you? Book online here, or call us on (08) 9448 2994
Emmanuel Stamatakis, I-Min Lee, Jason Bennie, Jonathan Freeston, Mark Hamer, Gary O'Donovan, Ding Ding, Adrian Bauman, Yorgi Mavros; Does strength promoting exercise confer unique health benefits? A pooled analysis of eleven population cohorts with all-cause, cancer, and cardiovascular mortality endpoints, American Journal of Epidemiology, 2017, https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwx345