Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for
individuals in the United States. Regular exercise helps improve cardiovascular health.
It is recommended that adults get 150 minutes of moderate or 75
minutes of vigorous aerobic activity each week, such as brisk walking or
running. The Physical Activity Guidelines also suggest two days of
weight lifting or other muscle-strengthening activities.
‘People who belonged to a health club not only exercised more - for both aerobic activity and strength training - they also had better cardiovascular health outcomes.’
evidence of the health benefits, only half of Americans are getting
enough aerobic activity and about 20% meet the guidelines for
If your New Year's resolution was to exercise more in 2017, chances
are you've already given up or you're on the verge of doing so. To reach
your goal, you may want to consider joining a gym, based on the results
of a new study from a team of Iowa State University researchers.
uck-chul (DC) Lee, an assistant professor of kinesiology and
corresponding author of the paper, says the study found people who
belonged to a health club not only exercised more - for both aerobic
activity and strength training - they also had better cardiovascular
Those health benefits were even greater for people who
had a gym membership for more than a year, Lee said. The research is
published in the journal PLOS ONE
"It's not surprising that people with a gym membership work out
more, but the difference in our results is pretty dramatic," Lee said.
"Gym members were 14 times more aerobically active than non-members and
10 times more likely to meet muscle-strengthening guidelines, regardless
of their age and weight." The results were similar in both men and
Iowa State researchers found 75% of study participants with
gym memberships, compared to 18% of non-members, met the
guidelines for both types of activity. In fact, the majority of those
who went to a health club exceeded standards and spent 300 minutes or
more running, biking or doing some type of cardio workout each week.
That adds up to nearly six hours of additional activity, compared to
Gym members overall had a more active lifestyle. Researchers say
members were just as active outside the gym and in their daily lives,
which combined contributed to better health outcomes. Here are a few of
the results for members:
- Lower odds of being obese - weight loss is a main reason for joining a gym
- Smaller waist circumference - about 1.5 inches less for men and a similar trend for women
- Lower resting heart rate - about five beats lower than non-members
- Higher cardiorespiratory fitness - this measures heart strength, lung function, blood circulation and muscle mass
Elizabeth Schroeder, lead author and a former Iowa State graduate
student, says while most people join a gym to lose weight, the research
shows the many benefits of exercise.
"As our paper shows, a health club membership is
associated with more favorable cardiovascular health," Schroeder said.
"I hope the results help people be more active, potentially at a health
club where they can easily perform resistance exercise, and see that
exercise may help prevent cardiovascular disease."
This is also one of the first studies to measure weight lifting and
resistance exercise. Lee says this type of activity is beneficial
because it builds muscle mass, which burns more energy and lowers the
risk of obesity and the risk of sarcopenia for older adults.
Researchers did not ask participants if they spend time at the gym
running on a treadmill, riding a bike, attending a group fitness class
or other activity. However, Warren Franke, a co-author and professor of
kinesiology, says health clubs offer a variety of options and benefits
for people who are new to exercise. Franke is director of Iowa State's
"By joining a quality fitness facility, a new exerciser will be
around like-minded people and have access to professionals who can help
them be successful," Franke said. "Access to quality exercise equipment,
social support and even the financial commitment may help spur someone
to continue exercising. Not all facilities are the same, so it's
important to find the 'right' fit."
Most people spend much of their day sitting at a desk, and do little
heavy lifting to create resistance against their muscles. Increasing
activity levels lowers the risk for diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and
cardiovascular disease, Lee said. However, only 18% of Americans
have a gym membership. Based on the research results, incentives to
boost membership could be beneficial, Lee said.
Several companies have on-site workout facilities for employees or
provide some form of reward for going to the gym. Greg Welk, a co-author
and professor of kinesiology, says efforts to increase these
opportunities not only improves employee health, but also reduce sick
days and lower insurance costs. As a coordinator of the ISU's Wellness
Works, Welk provides companies with the tools and support to implement
effective wellness programming.
"Access to fitness facilities can provide employees with an
incentive to take responsibility and adopt regular habits of physical
activity," Welk said. "A fitness center can promote improved fitness,
but employees may also need support for eating habits, managing stress
and other health needs."
Researchers say it's important to note that some data for the study
were collected while people were at the gym, which would exclude people
who have a membership, but are not using it. It is also a
cross-sectional study, so researchers cannot directly state a cause and