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854. Does strength promoting exercise confer unique health benefits? A pooled analysis of eleven population cohorts with all-cause, cancer, and cardiovascular mortality endpoints

Research Article
Emmanuel Stamatakis, I-Min Lee, Jason Bennie, Jonathan Freeston, Mark Hamer, Gary O'Donovan, Ding Ding, Adrian Bauman, Yorgi Mavros
November 2017

Commentary: Peter Edwards, Exercise Physiologist, National Heart Foundation of Australia

Current physical activity guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend adults undertake at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity, plus two days of muscle strengthening activities each week. However, the promotion of strength training in the physical activity and public health space seems underappreciated, indeed neglected. This is particularly when compared to other public health messages around moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and reducing sedentary behaviour. 

Which is why this new paper is very timely, highlighting not only just how important strength training is, but also how easy it can be to achieve. The study evaluated a large pooled-population sample comprising 80,000 adults aged over 30 years, living in England and Scotland between 1994 and 2008. Participants were surveyed on their strength-promoting activity behaviours, and at the end of the 9-year follow-up period, risk of death was calculated according to participants’ strength-promoting exercise. Data on adherence to the physical activity guideline of 150 minutes/week of moderate intensity or 75 minutes/week of vigorous intensity was also documented.

Results showed that while there was no relationship with cardiovascular disease mortality, participation in strength-promoting exercise at the recommended level (2 days per week) was associated with a 23 per cent reduction in all-cause mortality and a 31 percent reduction in cancer mortality. Furthermore, adhering to the WHO strengthening exercise guidelines alone was associated with a reduced risk of cancer-related death, whereas adherence to the aerobic physical activity guideline alone, was not. 

But what was most interesting from this study, was that irrespective of whether strengthening activity was performed with equipment (i.e. in a gym-based setting), or without any equipment (at home), the reduction in cancer mortality was still upheld. Encouraging the public to join a health club or gym has often been a tough sell, with many citing financial, social and time factors as the reasons for not engaging. A strength-based public health intervention that confers similar health benefits, and overcomes common barriers, is an attractive prospect to explore - especially considering that the number of people meeting these recommended strength training guidelines is low which means few are meeting current recommended physical activity guidelines overall.  

In summary, this is an important and timely paper that gives weight to calls for more recognition of strength activity in the physical activity and public health space. This study reinforces the point that strength-based activity provides profound health benefits, irrespective of where it is done (in a gym, or at home), and is at least as important as other public health messages, such as sitting less and moving more.

Source: American Journal of Epidemiology Advance articles. Access to this article will depend on your institutional rights: Access the full article.