The first of its kind, a multi-country study has found that more than 75% of European adults don’t do any muscle-strengthening exercise at all, not even weekly.
The World Health Organization 'suggests activities like lifting weights in a gym, push-ups, sit-ups and squats should be carried out at least two days a week to maintain good health and reduce the risk of chronic diseases'.
Nevertheless, data from more than 280,000 adults from 28 European countries showed that only 17.3 per cent follow the guidelines – 19.8 per cent of men and 15 per cent of women.
The study, led by the University of Southern Queensland in Australia, is the most comprehensive look at how much muscle-strengthening exercise adults across Europe are getting.
The researchers said the findings, published on the 25th of November in The Public Library of Science ONE journal, has stated that it 'requires immediate action from public health officials'.
The lead investigator of the study, Dr Jason Bennie, who is a physical activity epidemiologist at the University of Southern Queensland had this to say about the findings of the report:
“While the health benefits of muscle-strengthening exercise are clear, the reality is a large majority of European adults either don’t do it or don’t do enough of it."
“Particularly concerning was our data showed that in some southern European countries, more than 95 per cent of adults reported doing no muscle‐strengthening exercise.”
The research team used data from the second wave of the European Health Interview Survey, which was conducted in 2013 and 2014.
The way the study was conducted is fairly straightforward: participants were questioned how many days in a week they would potentially engage in physical activities specifically designed to strengthen muscles, such as doing resistance training, strength exercises such as lifting weights or even boxing.
Most interestingly, South-eastern European countries Romania, Malta and Cyprus were among the lowest-ranked countries with less than eight per cent of adults meeting the recommended two days a week of muscle-strengthening exercise, while Nordic countries Iceland, Sweden and Denmark recorded the best results. Maybe the cold weather forces people to move, get the blood moving and stay warm.
The study team of researchers have suggested that 'wealth inequality across European countries was likely the main cause of the geographical pattern of participation in muscle-strengthening exercise'. Other factors associated with low participation rate include old age, lower education standards, being female and being overweight or obese.
Dr Bennie continued: “Chronic diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cancer, chronic respiratory disease and mental disorders contribute to 86 per cent of deaths in Europe, yet the message around physical activity and its importance to health and wellbeing has generally focused on just aerobic exercise."
“Given the established health benefits of muscle-stretching exercise, coupled with its low participation levels, there is an urgent need for governments and health authorities across Europe to start supporting the uptake of this type of exercise at the population level.”
Dr Bennie also stated that 'several strategies could help boost muscle-strengthening exercise levels, including access to affordable health facilities, equipment and fitness trainers, physical activity campaigns endorsing muscle-strengthening exercise as essential for optimal health and promotion in schools'.
“While muscle-strengthening exercise is typically performed at gyms or fitness centres, one thing the COVID-19 lockdown has shown us is how easily it can be done at home,” he said.
“Even a little bit of muscle-strengthening exercise can have immediate health benefits, especially if you are currently doing none.”
So what can we take away from this?
This study highlights how important strength training is for overall health and wellbeing.
Weight-lifting isn't just for bodybuilders and gym junkies. Invest in a good personal trainer and see those muscles grow and your stamina improve.
The study, which is called ‘The epidemiology of muscle‐strengthening exercise in Europe: a 28-country comparison including 280,605 adults’ is available here to read.