Muscle strengthening can reduce the risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease

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Can Strength Exercise Reduce Mortality Risk? Cavan Pictures/Getty Pictures
  • The authors of a new meta-analysis of previous studies set out to determine how much time adults should spend on muscle-strengthening exercise each week.
  • They conclude that doing 30-60 minutes of this exercise every week reduces the risk of death from all causes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.
  • They also report that up to 1 hour of muscle-strengthening exercise per week reduces the risk of developing diabetes.
  • However, limitations in the data mean more research is needed to clarify the results.

Although the health benefits of aerobic exercise are well known, the health benefits of muscle strengthening exercise have been less studied.

Recently, a group of researchers from Japan set out to investigate.

The study in the British Journal of Sports Medicinetook data from existing studies to learn more about how these exercises affect health.

Results showed that adults who do 30-60 minutes of muscle-strengthening exercise each week have a 10-20% reduced risk of death, along with a reduced risk of other health conditions.

Being physically active is important to maintain good physical and mental health.

the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recommends that adults engage in 150-300 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75-150 minutes of vigorous aerobic physical activity each week to ensure “substantial health benefits.”

aerobic exercise improving heart health. Some examples are swimming, cycling, hiking and rowing.

In addition, the HHS recommends that adults do muscle-strengthening exercise two days a week. Some types of exercises that strengthen muscles include weight lifting, using resistance bands, and bodyweight exercises like push-ups, sit-ups, and squats.

The HHS states that “nearly 80% of adults fail to meet key guidelines for both aerobic and muscular activity.”

The aim of this study was to use previously published research to determine how much time per week adults should spend on muscle-strengthening exercise to improve overall health.

The researchers used data from 16 relevant observational studies published between 2012 and 2020 to determine the health benefits of these exercises. They focused on studies with participants who didn’t have any major health problems.

Each study the authors reviewed included data from thousands of participants, and one of the studies included data from nearly 480,000 people. The included studies followed the participants for at least 2 years.

According to the authors, “All studies focused on muscle-building exercises such as resistance/strength/weight training and calisthenics, but not on muscle-building activities such as carrying heavy loads and heavy yard work.”

After analyzing the data, the authors found that muscle-strengthening activities were associated with a 10-17% reduced risk of all-cause mortality. There was also a similar risk reduction for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, all-cause cancer, and lung cancer.

While there was an overall decrease in cancer and lung cancer cases, the researchers found no reduction in the risk of other cancers such as colon, kidney, bladder and pancreas cancer.

Dr Anton Bilchik spoke with Medical news today about the study results. dr Bilchik is a surgical oncologist, professor of surgery, chief physician and director of the gastrointestinal research program at Saint John’s Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, California.

“This study is important because it is a meta-analysis of 16 prospective cohort studies showing that muscle-strengthening activity reduces the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes,” said Dr. Bilchik.

“The maximum risk reduction was 10-20% at 60 minutes [each] week of muscle strengthening. However, there was no association with specific cancers such as colon, kidney, bladder and pancreas.”

dr Bilchik also explained why muscle strengthening exercises can be so beneficial:

“The authors propose that muscle strengthening is associated with the maintenance of skeletal muscle mass, which then plays an important role in glucose metabolism. Abnormal glucose metabolism has been linked to an increase in cardiovascular disease and cancer.”

Although the authors found that 30-60 minutes of muscle-strengthening exercise per week provided health benefits, they found no evidence that doing more than 60 minutes provided additional benefits.

Although the researchers had access to additional studies, they recognize the need for further research.

“Given the limited data available, more studies – such as studies that focus on a more diverse population – are needed to increase the certainty of the evidence,” the authors write.

dr Steve Vasilev also spoke to MNT about the study. dr Vasilev is a four-time board-certified integrative gynecologic oncologist and medical director of integrative gynecologic oncology at Providence Saint John Health Center. He is also a professor at Saint John’s Cancer Institute.

“As this systematic review notes, the impact of muscle-strengthening exercise on noncommunicable diseases such as cancer and heart disease has been less studied than the impact of aerobic exercise on the same groups,” commented Dr. Vasilev.

“While there were some highlights indicating a beneficial effect, particularly when combined with aerobic exercise, the relative risk reduction in incidence and mortality was generally small, and the quality of the evidence for all these studies combined was described as low to high low,” continued Dr. Vasilev away.

“This makes this data functionally almost uninterpretable. Nonetheless, I applaud efforts to show that lifestyle changes can benefit the prevention and progression of diseases such as cancer and heart disease.”

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