Strength training has been brought into the spotlight in new guidelines for physical activity, just published by the UK’s chief medical officer (CMO).
The recommendations, published as UK Chief Medical Officers’ physical activity guidelines, are an update on those released in 2011, which focused more on the importance of aerobic exercise.
This broadening of focus to more actively advocate for strength training comes as research is increasingly proving the vital importance of maintaining good muscle mass for functional fitness, balance and weight management, as we age.
In releasing the report, CMO, Professor Dame Sally Davies, said: “As we age, our muscles weaken and we can become stiff, leading to falls and difficulty performing everyday activities.
“Physical activity can prevent fragility and support mobility in old age. By keeping active, we can slow muscle and bone decline, ultimately remaining independent for longer.”
As a preamble to this new report and to inform its direction, Public Health England published a useful piece of research in 2018, entitled Muscle and bone strengthening and balance activities for general health benefits in adults and older adults.
This says, “The UK CMO’s physical activity guidelines for adults and older adults comprise four elements: cardiovascular activity; strengthening activities; activities to improve balance and coordination; and reducing prolonged sitting time, however, there’s an imbalance in awareness, achievement and monitoring of these components of the guidance, with muscle and bone strengthening and balance activities being considered ‘the forgotten guidelines’.”
It’s clear the CMO intends to remedy this imbalance and we expect this report and its focus on strength training to have a trickle-down effect over the next few years, as the advice is implemented through the health club and fitness industry and also via medical channels, such as GP referral.
Research suggests that all adults should undertake a programme of exercise at least twice per week that includes high-intensity resistance training, impact exercise and balance training, with sessions tailored to individual physical function.
There’s such a battle going on for space on the gym floor that many clubs have found their strength training areas being squeezed to make way for cardiovascular, functional and group exercise facilities, but we expect to see a resurgence in strength training provision as a result of the new guidelines.
This needs to apply to all age groups, especially the elderly, who are more challenging to connect with and influence.
Strength training is especially important for people heading into their 50s, as – regardless of existing fitness levels – they only have a decade to build muscle before they hit 60, with the more rapid physical decline in function everyone experiences after that age.
So it’s time to really champion strength training wherever we can and we’re fortunate that we have a great range of equipment available to make this an achievable and enjoyable goal for all.