Research finds strong men are at a reduced risk of death

As someone who is passionately interested in health, it perhaps is not too much of a surprise that I generally advocate regular activity, and engage in some in my own life too. My core exercise is brisk walking, though I’ve traditionally supplemented this with some swimming. This sort of activity I believe keeps my fitness in good order. However, I do believe that some ‘resistance’ exercise is warranted too. And up until now, I’ve relied on my habit of walking up stairs two-at-a time, as well as keeping my upper body going with the help of some dumbbells that I keep in the kitchen (and pick up and play with while waiting for, say, a pan to boil or some onions to fry).

However, all this changed recently when my girlfriend treated us both to membership at the local gym as a present. My original intention was to use the pool facilities. However, the actual gymnasium insists on an ‘induction’, which I attended (reluctantly) last Thursday. I now have an individually tailored ‘programme’ which incorporates rowing, cross-training, resistance exercise, core stability exercises and stretching. I can crack through it all in under an hour (one of my stipulations), and the gym itself is a pleasant-enough place which overlooks trees and has plenty of natural sunlight. It remains to be seen how long my new-found enthusiasm for the gym lasts, but right now I have to admit, I’m hooked.

I had no intention of writing about my recent gym experience until the British Medical Journal published an interesting and relevant article the day after my induction. Conducted by an international group of researchers, the study looked at the relationship between muscular strength and risk of mortality in men. Muscular strength was assessed using leg and bench-press in almost 9000 men aged 20-80. The men were then divided into 3 categories of strength: lower, middle and upper. The men were followed for about almost 19 years.

Risk of mortality (overall risk of death) was then compared across the groups, having adjusted for a number of ‘confounding’ factors such as age, fitness, smoking, medical history and family history of cardiovascular disease.

Compared to those in the ‘lower’ strength category:

Those in the ‘middle’ strength category were at a 26 per cent reduced risk of death

Those in the ‘higher’ strength category were at a 20 per cent reduced risk of death

The researchers also looked at the relative risk of both cardiovascular disease (e.g. heart attacks and strokes) and cancer across the strength categories.

There was no significant association found between muscular strength and mortality from cardiovascular disease. However, the results for cancer were significant.

Compared to those in the ‘lower’ strength category:

Those in the ‘middle’ strength category were at a 29 per cent reduced risk of death from cancer

Those in the ‘higher’ strength category were at a33 per cent reduced risk of death from cancer

The association between increased muscular strength and reduced risk of death and death from cancer was found in men irrespective of age and size (body mass index).

The authors call for similar research to be performed in women. They also conclude that their work provides some evidence that resistance exercise may possibly reduce the risk of death in men in a way that adds to any reduction gained from ‘cardiorespiratory fitness’ (as may be achieved through aerobic activity). This is a message I might reflect on should I find my new-found enthusiasm for the gym waning at any time.


Ruiz JR, et al. Association between muscular strength and mortality in men: prospective cohort study. BMJ 2008;337:a439

3 Responses to Research finds strong men are at a reduced risk of death

  1. Sue 15 July 2008 at 3:36 am #

    Talking about exercising a study has come out re interval training, this is from Ms Muscles Fitness blog:
    “Interval training produces a greater response from the body than steady state cardiovascular exercise. The more intense the exercise is for your body, the greater response your body will have to it. In other words, you will get better results -faster with intervals than with boring traditional steady state exercise.

    Here is more evidence, as reported by the NY Times, that sprinting should be part of your muscle arsenal.
    “More and more, professional organizations are recommending interval training during rehabilitation from diseases like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, peripheral artery disease and cardiovascular disease,” said Maureen MacDonald, academic adviser and an associate professor in the department of kinesiology. “Our research certainly provides evidence that this type of exercise training is as effective as traditional moderate-intensity training. We wouldn’t be surprised to see more rehabilitation programs adopt this method of training since it is often better tolerated in diseased populations”.
    What’s interesting is how interval sprinting is often “better tolerated” in diseased populations. I totally agree that it’s better tolerated because it is a shorter workout, it is more interesting, challenging, and engaging. This stimulating way to workout is exciting and elicits a greater response from your body and mind.

    Here is Conditioning Research on the same topic, it’s nice to see we are on the same page.”

    When you click on the above link you can also link into the NY Times article about this study. There are quite a few interesting comments, particularly the one about the twins – one very scrawny and the other muscular. Discussions are regarding which twin is healthier.

  2. Bill 20 July 2008 at 8:01 pm #

    Although we could conclude from this study that if we increase our strength we may be less likely to die, it could be that those who are naturally strong or maintained strength over their life irrespective of the exercise they have done may be less likely to die?

    They do attempt to account for this possibility by controlling for “sedentary or active” in their analysis but this does not explicitly identify strength training.

    Are there are any prospective intervention studies that prescribe strength training and then monitor deaths?

    However, I do hope it’s true to justify my graft in the gym!

  3. Spida Hunter 21 July 2008 at 12:33 pm #

    Kia ora John, to be honest I’m “suprized” you haven’t caught the ‘resistance’ bug earlier! As a fitness professional I enjoy reading your ezine and have “noticed” your foundness for walking.

    Resistance training when done ‘correctly’ is no different to nutrition, everything is built on a great foundation! The beauty of ‘proper’ resistance training is that you can more bang for you buck in 3hrs then you can in 5hrs of walking for health!

    1) Increased Strength (both muscular & bone density)
    2) Increased Cardiovascular fitness (aerobic & anaerobic)
    3) Increased Flexibility/Mobility
    4) Decreased bodyfat
    to name a few in just 60mins of proper resistance training times 3 per week.

    As stated in earlier post interval is the “hot topic” at the moment as this creates a EPOC (Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption) where you can burn calories up to 36hrs later that was recorded in 1 study.

    Foundational Exercises in ANY exercise programme:
    Horizontal Push/Pull
    Vertical Push/Pull

    There are a zillion ways to do these exercises however the take home rule here is 80/20. 80% of the time stay away from machines where you have to sit in them to perform exercises like the leg extension or seated hamstring curls etc…

    And 80% of your work out should consist of the above exercises and it’s variations.

    We haven’t even touched on how we can manipulate rest to get the EPOC effect either 🙂

    Thanks John keep up the great work,

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