Latest Studies on Exercise

Sportswomen doing cardio workout with an airbike
By Erin Phelan

By Erin Phelan

Fitness Industry Council of Canada

The latest studies on the benefits of exercise tell a compelling story: From our heart to our brain, right down to our cells, physical activity is proving to be the most potent pill on the market.


But wait – can you get exercise in a pill now?


Every month, Fitness Industry Council of Canada (FIC) highlights and explores the latest data and research on the power of exercise. As the research continues to evolve, we will continue to share the essential role exercise, and the work of the fitness industry, plays in improving health and wellness in Canada and around the world.

1. Strength training increases cognitive function

A recent study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology explores the link between strength training and cognitive function in older adults. Researchers conducted a randomized controlled trial with participants aged 60-75, dividing them into a strength training group and a control group. The strength training group engaged in resistance exercises three times a week for six months. They found significant improvements in memory and executive function in the strength training group; MRI scans showed increased brain volume in regions associated with cognitive processes, suggesting strength training may help mitigate age-related cognitive decline.


Key Takeaway:  Exercise can enhance brain health and delay the onset of neurodegenerative brain diseases.


2. Exercise benefits at the cellular level

We are diving deeper into the benefits of exercise: A groundbreaking study by Stanford Medicine has mapped molecular changes induced by exercise, providing a detailed look at how physical activity benefits health. Researchers conducted nearly 10,000 measurements in various tissues of lab rats subjected to eight weeks of endurance exercise. The study revealed significant impacts on the immune system, stress response, energy production, and metabolism. This extensive profiling offers a comprehensive map of the molecular changes prompted by exercise, contributing to our understanding of its broad health benefits and laying the groundwork for future research on how exercise influences disease prevention and recovery.


Key Takeaway: The benefits of exercise at the molecular level hold huge promise for preventative health.


3. High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Cardiovascular Health

In your rush to embrace strength training, did you forget about HIIT? A recent, comprehensive study published in the American Journal of Cardiology showed the effects of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) on cardiovascular health. The study included 200 participants with varying levels of cardiovascular risk, who were assigned to either a HIIT program or a moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) program for 12 weeks. HIIT participants showed great improvements in VO2max, compared to the MICT group, as well as reductions in blood pressure, cholesterol and body fat percentage.


Key Takeaway: HIIT training is particularly effective for improving cardiovascular health.


4. Exercise and our DNA

An intriguing study from the Journal of Sports Medicine and Physical Fitnessexamined how genetic factors influence individual responses to different types of exercise. The researchers analyzed genetic markers in 300 participants to understand their impact on muscle growth, endurance, and overall fitness improvements. Certain genetic markers were associated with better responses to resistance training, while others correlated with improved endurance from aerobic exercises. When the exercise program was personalized, based on the genetic profile, researchers found greater fitness gains compared to a standardized program.


Key Takeaway: The future of fitness may be personal – understanding our members’ genetic predispositions may help optimize training regimens for maximum effectiveness and reduced injury risk.


5. Take a Pill

We have heard the murmurs for quite some time: researchers have identified compounds that could potentially mimic the benefits of exercise in pill form. At the American Chemical Society’s Spring 2024 meeting, scientists presented findings on a compound named SLU-PP-332, which activates estrogen-related receptors (ERRs) in muscle cells, enhancing their metabolism and growth. This compound improved endurance and muscle performance in lab mice. And while nothing will ever replace physical activity, one cannot deny that a drug like this could prove to be revolutionary for individuals unable to engage in regular physical activity due to age, illness, or disability, offering a new way to combat muscle atrophy and related conditions​.


Key Takeaway: While nothing will replace the gym, exercise science is evolving to underscore how the benefits of physical activity can be felt and shared.


6. Low Intensity Exercise and Mental Health

A study published in May 2024 highlights the mental health benefits of low-intensity exercise. Regular physical activity has been shown to significantly reduce symptoms of depression, even more so than previously recognized. This finding is crucial as it underscores the importance of incorporating even mild forms of exercise into daily routines to boost mental well-being​ – the extensive review of global studies found a 24% decrease in depression risk and a 26% decrease in anxiety risk with accessible, lower intensity activities.


Key Takeaway: The beneficial effects of physical activity on mental health were consistent across various demographics globally, emphasizing its universal applicability.


The latest studies prove beyond a shadow of a doubt, that moving our sedentary population to active has the potential to have the greatest impact on physical and mental health in Canada.

Fitness Industry Council of Canada (FIC) is the not-for profit trade association that represents the voice of fitness facility operators across Canada. Representing more than 6,000 facilities with more than six-million members nationwide, FIC pursues a legislative agenda in the hope of bettering the fitness industry for both consumers and operators. FIC aims to work with both industry and government to improve the health and physical activity levels of Canadians.

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