The Latest Studies on Exercise 

The Latest Studies on Exercise
By Erin Phelan

By Erin Phelan

Fitness Industry Council of Canada

With National Health and Fitness Day on the horizon, it is time to start gathering evidence on exactly how powerful exercise truly is for improving physical and mental health! This past week, exercise made the headlines again for reducing heart disease. Every week, a new study emerges that reveals the potency of exercise in preventing and treating chronic illnesses, and improving mental health.


This week, Fitness Industry Council of Canada (FIC) shines a spotlight on recent studies making headline news.


1. Exercise Reduces Heart Disease by 23% (and bonus benefit) 

 Research from Massachusetts General Hospital suggests that physical activity can significantly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease by diminishing stress-related brain activity. Over a decade, individuals meeting recommended activity levels had a 23% lower risk of cardiovascular issues, with the protective benefits seen even more in participants with depression. Led by Dr. Ahmed Tawakol, the study examined 50,359 participants from the Mass General Brigham Biobank, highlighting the psychological and cardiovascular advantages of staying active.


2. Exercise boosts cancer treatment and recovery

Researchers at UBC, in collaboration with BC Cancer and the Canadian Cancer Society, are conducting studies to understand the benefits of physical activity for cancer patients and survivors. Led by Dr. Kristin Campbell, these studies aim to uncover how exercise can alleviate cancer-related fatigue, reduce anxiety, enhance mobility post-surgery, and improve overall quality of life and fitness. Contrary to expectations, exercise has been shown to increase energy levels in cancer patients. Additionally, it may support patients in completing their treatment plans, facilitate a smoother return to work or daily activities, and enhance sleep quality. Through virtual and in-person programs, the research team seeks to make these benefits accessible to individuals across British Columbia, inviting them to participate in advancing cancer care through exercise.


3. Incentives and reminders work to boost physical activity 

What if someone texted you every day to go to the gym? Do you think you would go more often? A study supported by the National Institutes of Health and published in Circulation  revealed that adults at risk of heart disease significantly increased their daily steps by over 1,500 after a year with daily reminders or incentives. These participants maintained their increased activity levels even six months later. The improvements, which included an extra 40 minutes of moderate exercise weekly, were associated with a 6% lower risk of premature death and a 10% lower risk of cardiovascular-related deaths compared to previous studies. While simple reminders were effective, financial incentives or point-based rewards proved even more so, with the combination of both being the most effective. Even after the rewards ceased, participants continued to show improvements in activity levels. This study underscores the importance of regular physical activity in reducing the risk of heart disease and premature death.


4. Exercise reduces risks of dementia in those with osteoarthritis

Recent research indicates that regular exercise, including walking over 6000 steps, can effectively lower the risk of dementia. However, for older adults with conditions like osteoarthritis (OA) or motor disabilities, engaging in such activity is often challenging. To address this, Chinese researchers conducted a retrospective longitudinal study involving 242 non-demented individuals aged 50 or above from three centres in Taiwan. They found that even minimal amounts of exercise (MAE), defined as walking for approximately 15-30 minutes or 1500-3000 steps, significantly reduced the risk of dementia. Those who engaged in MAE daily or weekly had notably lower odds of developing dementia compared to those who did not. The study also identified factors such as older age, cognitive decline, and limitations in activities of daily living as contributors to dementia risk. These findings suggest that promoting even modest levels of physical activity among older adults with OA could be a valuable public health strategy for dementia prevention.


5. Exercise combined with mindfulness improves mental health

No one would argue that the body and mind are connected. Researchers are still investigating the nuanced relationship between physical and mental health and interventions to help people optimize both. A systematic review recently published in Mental Health and Physical Activity analysed the results of 35 studies to look at the combined effects of mindfulness and exercise. The results suggest that when combined, mindfulness and exercise might offer the most benefits for mental health.

Exercise is medicine, with unequivocal evidence proving that exercise reduces healthcare costs, decreases rates of mental health and illness, improves productivity, reduces rates of anxiety, stress and depression and contributes to a healthier Canada. Every Canadian, young and old, needs to take a dose of physical activity daily!


It is time our government policy takes a stronger stance on improving activity levels.

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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