Strengthening and balancing activities should be done twice a week, according to a new report commissioned by Public Health England and the Centre for Ageing Better. As well as aerobic activity, an appraisal of evidence shows the importance of strengthening muscles and bones and improving balance for physical health.

In response to concerns about an overly aerobic-based encouragement of physical activity, a chief objective of the report’s researchers was to balance this out with an examination of the evidence which conveys the benefits and needs for strength-based fitness elements too.

Benefits of strength and balance activities

Evidence for a number of benefits of strength and balance activities were found by the report. A particular importance is that by improving the strength of muscles, the risk of falling in older adults is lowered. According to the report, the risk of a fall is increased by 76% if there is “poor muscle strength.” Damage caused from falls in older people is often more serious than in younger people and the reason for “around 95% of all hip fractures,” according to NHS statistics.

As well as the direct physical benefit of muscle strength being increased, there is the potential for wellbeing being boosted as a consequence of better sleeping patterns, mood improvements, and greater energy levels.

This can go towards the prevention of related problems. With mental well-being being an area of concern in the UK at present, the government will be keen to emphasise where wellbeing can be improved.

Additionally, the report found consistent evidence that having good levels of strength “reduced risk of mortality from all causes.”

The report was conducted by reviewing evidence for the importance of muscle and bone strengthening in adults aged from 18 to 65 and over with the emphasis on those over 60.

Children were not included in the study.

Emphasis on the importance of this is increased in “key transition points in life” such as pregnancy or retirement when an individual could have greater sedentary behaviour.

In response to the review’s publication, the Senior Engagement Manager for the Centre for Ageing Better, Jess Kuehne, has commented that it is important to highlight that activities which boost muscle strength and balance “help to keep people healthy and independent for longer, particularly as they age” as well as relaying the importance of giving “equal weighting to activities that boost muscle and bone strength and improve balance rather than simply focusing on aerobic exercise.”

What are suitable activities?

In the Public Health England press release issued today, the best activities for increasing strength of muscles and bones and balance include:

  • Ball games
  • Circuit training
  • Tai Chi
  • Resistance training (this can be using weights but also using natural body resistance)
  • Racquet sports

Activities such as these should be carried out each week two times per week minimum.

Any activities carried out should be suitable for an individual’s personal abilities and special concern should be given to members of the population who are at increased risk of falls or fracture. For them, individual-programmes of exercise should be done under supervision.

In addition to discussing the evidence-based need for muscle and bone strengthening, the report also gives advice to policymakers and practitioners about how improvements to, and encouragement of, people undertaking activities which improve muscles, balance and the strengthening of bones.

Practitioners are called to make sure information about the benefits and need for muscle and bone strengthening activities is conveyed to their patients and service users.

Special consideration should be given to populations for whom the need is especially great.

Additionally, the report calls on policymakers to give balanced attention to the emphasising of both aerobic and muscle and bone strength activities when creating public advice. All advice should be “clear, action-orientated, and tailored to current levels of physical activity and capability.”

The advice is the result of a workshop led by the researchers which conveyed their findings to an Implementation Advisory Group. The Group was comprised of allied health professionals, service providers, patient representatives, and stakeholder groups.

Potential impact

In encouraging the undertaking of more strength and balance-based activities, the government is hoping to increase the physical health of those in the UK, with particular emphasis on growing older in as fit a way as possible.

This will be beneficial for both the public, by increasing peoples’ wellbeing and independence in older age, and the government, by reducing the NHS’s expenditure on health issues related to poor muscle and bone strength.