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Study: Just 1 in 20 adults meeting recommended exercise guidelines

Whilst a lot of people do aerobic exercise such as running or cycling, far fewer do the equally important strengthening exercises that include weights.



Young fit woman working out with barbell on bench in the gym. Bar Bench Pres
(ESB Professional via Shutterstocl)

By Mark Waghorn via SWNS

Only one in 20 British adults are meeting the correct type of recommended exercise guidelines, warns new research.

Women, older people and those living in deprived areas are most likely to be physically
inactive, according to the shock findings based on a study of more than 250,000 people in England.

Whilst a lot of people do aerobic exercise such as running or cycling, far fewer do the equally important strengthening exercises that include weights.

First author Dr. Gavin Sandercock, of the University of Essex, said: "Under the most stringent definition of strengthening activity, we found around one in 20 adults met current guidelines, a stark contrast to the estimate that two in three adults are physically active based solely on aerobic activity."

He added: "Just 7.3 percent of men and 4.1 percent of women achieved the recommendations for strengthening activity."

These may include lifting weights, hill walking, push ups and and heavy gardening, for instance, rather than cycling, swimming or running.

Dr. Sandercock said: "We found females and older adults aged 50 to 65 were less likely to meet guidelines for aerobic, strengthening and combined aerobic plus strengthening activity.

"The prevalence of meeting activity guidelines was lower in adults from more deprived areas.

"Adults with lower academic qualifications were less likely to meet activity guidelines than those educated to degree level or higher."


The 2011 UK physical activity guidelines were the first to recommend at least twice-weekly bouts of strengthening activity as part of at least 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical aerobic activity per week.

They were based on high-quality evidence for the additional health benefits, explained Dr. Sandercock.

His team analyzed data from the Active Lives Survey which provides detailed information on how over 16s engage with sport and physical activity.

He said: "Historically, guidelines have not included a minimum duration or required intensity for bouts of strengthening activities.

"Active Lives provides information on the bouts reported for every activity over the last 28 days.

"We summed bouts for all activities meeting each of our definitions for muscle-strengthening activity reported in the previous 28 days and divided this figure by four to provide a figure for weekly bouts.

"We then calculated the percentage of adults meeting recommendations for strengthening and aerobic and strengthening activity using each definition."

The findings backed existing estimates from The Scottish Health Survey and Health Survey for England.

He said: "We found that, regardless of the definition used, fewer adults met the current strengthening activity recommendations compared with the number meeting aerobic activity guidelines.

"While more than two thirds (67%) of adults reported the equivalent of at least 150 min/week, fewer than a quarter (23%) of the sample actually met the current UK physical activity guidelines specifying twice-weekly muscle-strengthening activity."

When including only activities that met the description provided in current guidelines, just 5% of adults met the recommendations.

Dr. Sandercock said: "This proportion is comparable to that reported for US adults using a similarly stringent definition of what constitutes strengthening activity but is considerably higher than the estimate recently reported in UK adults.

"We included strengthening activities only if performed in bouts of ten minutes or more.
Stipulating a minimum bout duration reduces estimates of how many adults meet aerobic activity guidelines."

He added: "Compared with aerobic activity, fewer adults engage in strengthening activity regardless of how it is defined

"The range in estimates for how many adults meet strengthening activity guidelines can be explained by variations in the definition of 'strengthening' that are used and the specific sports or activities identified as strengthening exercise.

"When strengthening activity is included, the proportion of English adults meeting current physical activity guidelines could be as high as one in three but possibly as low as just one in 20.

"A harmonized definition of strengthening activity, that is aligned with physical activity guidelines, is required to provide realistic and comparable prevalence estimates."

The study was published in the journal PLOS One.

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