Is training alone enough to improve your health?
Another tick in the box for tracking your activity outside the gym.
People train for a multitude of reasons, some people want to get better at a sport, some people want to lose/gain weight, but overall, most people train to improve their quality of life and to live healthier lives. If health isn’t the initial goal, it’s something that people become more aware of as they get older. The question I want to answer today is; looking solely at improving your overall health, is training alone enough?
By this point, most people will of heard about counting their steps, this is often seen as a non-negotiable for people looking to lose weight; and rightfully so, it will massively increase your energy expenditure which will compliment the goal of staying in a calorie deficit. Activity and step count may not be as high as a priority for people who aren’t looking to lose weight, but should be factored in when looking to improve general health. Should people that don’t want to lose weight also aim to increase their activity outside of the gym? Is the gym bro that trains 4 times a week but spends the rest of the time doing nothing and exclusively eating chicken and rice ‘healthy’? Lets take a look at the research….
There are several studies to show that training, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle isn’t enough to improve your overall health. A study by Atkins (2019) showed that training for 1 hour, alongside spending 14 hours sedentary, did nothing to improve their metabolic markers (insulin, glucose and lipid metabolism). A similar study design by Kim (2015) showed the same results of little improvement on these metabolic markers, even when accounting for reduced calories for the lesser activity group. A 2020 study by Judice, looking exclusively at athletes, showed that even though all of the participants of the study trained hard for their sport, there was a inverse correlation between fat percentage and activity. This could be because of the lesser overall calories burnt, but also due to the lack of affect training has on several metabolic markers if training is paired with an otherwise sedentary lifestyle. A study by Lee (2019) looked at the step count of elderly women (average age of 72), there was a correlation between lower step count and higher mortality rate. This study was looking exclusively at the benefit of activity, rather than the affect of activity coupled with training, but it’s another tick in the box for increased activity for health.
At MSC performance we have been very vocal about increasing your activity outside of the gym as well as increasing your training time. Our aim regardless of your performance goal is to increase your quality of life. Because of this, when we take on new clients for either personal training or our Elite membership, we don’t just look at what the client does during their time at MSC, we also look at other metrics that affect both performance related, and health related goals. These are typically nutrition, sleep, hydration and activity outside of the gym. If you are new to training, training 2+ times per week will be better than not doing anything full stop, but it isn’t enough to optimise your overall health if you spend the rest of the day behind a screen and/or TV, so we should be looking to make other adjustments to your day that will have a big improvement in your wellbeing.
Almost everyone now has access to a step counter, either via a fitness watch or on their mobile phone, so it is easy to track your activity and make sure you are doing enough to help you with your personal/health goals. If you currently have a very sedentary lifestyle with a very low amount of steps (-2000 steps) then the good news is its very easy to increase this to a moderate amount! From the research above it seems that 7000 steps is a failsafe number to reduce all the negative impact of a sedentary lifestyle. Starting with a couple of 5-10 minute walks daily, coupled with being more mindful and trying to walk more (ie parking further away in a supermarket, walking to do a little shop etc) can really add up and make the difference. This can then be progressed gradually to hit 7000 steps, adding more if you feel like you can!
There is a lot of research out there looking at the benefits of activity on health, research which applies to everyone including people who regularly train. This research shows that the 21st century population, who spend a lot of time sedentary, need to do more to improve their overall health and wellbeing. With gyms closed a lot of people have been more mindful of going out for exercise or for daily walks to get their activity in. If we can keep this level of activity up, alongside good quality strength training, then we can hit any performance goals, whilst hitting the overarching goal of being healthier humans.