Research finds strong men are at a reduced risk of death

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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

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