Strength exercise: Just 1 in 20 adults in England are doing enough
A survey suggests only one in 20 people aged 19 to 64 are meeting England’s strictest weekly strength exercising guidelines
4 May 2022
The latest thinking is that strength exercises are important for health, but just one in 20 people aged 19 to 64 are meeting England’s strictest weekly strength training guidelines.
Gavin Sandercock at the University of Essex in the UK and his colleagues looked at survey data from over 275,000 adults in this age group.
Between 2015 and 2017, these people were asked to estimate how much time they spent doing physical activity each week. The team wanted to find out what proportion of these adults in England met the UK’s weekly health guidelines, which recommend 150 minutes of moderate activity a week – including two bouts of strength training.
Strength training is defined as any activity that strengthens muscle or bone and is done to fatigue, to failure, says Sandercock. This can include lifting weights, body weight exercises and fitness plans.
He says strength training is important because in later life stronger muscles can help you climb the stairs, dig the garden and pick up your grandchildren.
The researchers found that on average just 5 per cent of these adults in England met the full recommendation, including strength training. But this figure jumped to 67 per cent when the team only looked at what proportion engaged in 150 minutes of moderate activity a week – regardless of what form the exercise took.
“Most of the physical activity that people report in their 150 minutes per week in the UK is actually incidental,” Sandercock says. This can be achieved, for example, via a person’s cycle or walk to work.
The researchers found that men were more likely to meet all the guidelines as well as younger age groups. “But the strongest effect that we found when we looked at the variables was education,” Sandercock says.
There are two main reasons why this could be the case, Sandercock says. People who are more educated may be more likely to know what the UK’s recommended health advice is. On the other hand, it could be that strength training – especially lifting weights – often requires access to a gym which costs money, says Sandercock. Higher levels of education have been linked to greater wealth, he says.
But Sandercock says lifting barbells isn’t the only way to strengthen muscles. He says combat sports, dance classes and circuit training are all forms of strength training.
“I’m not surprised by the findings,” says Anne Tiedemann at the University of Sydney. “To encourage greater participation in strength training, I believe we need to raise awareness about its multiple benefits that go beyond aesthetics.”
“We need to emphasise that strength training is relevant to health and fitness across all age groups and not just for young males.”
“Considering the fact that age-related loss of muscle mass and skeletal muscle dysfunction are the cause of many chronic diseases, this is a great concern,” says Ken Nosaka at Edith Cowan University in Australia. “Every muscle contraction counts and even a 3-second muscle contraction daily can increase muscle strength.”
Journal reference: PLoS One, DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0267277
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