Background: Obesity is a significant and growing public health problem in high-income countries. Little is known about the relationship between resistance exercise (RE), alone and in combination with aerobic exercise (AE), and the risk of developing obesity. The purpose of this prospective cohort study was to examine the associations between different amounts and frequencies of RE, independent of AE, and incident obesity.
Methods and findings: Participants were 11,938 healthy adults ages 18-89 years with a BMI < 30 kg/m2 at baseline who completed at least 2 clinical examinations during 1987-2005 as part of the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study. Self-reported RE participation in minutes/week and days/week was collected from a standardized questionnaire. Incident obesity was defined as a BMI ≥ 30 kg/m2 at follow-up. Incident obesity was also defined by waist circumference (WC) > 102/88 cm for men/women and percent body fat (PBF) ≥ 25%/30% for men/women at follow-up in participants who were not obese by WC (n = 9,490) or PBF (n = 8,733) at baseline. During the average 6-year follow-up, 874 (7%), 726 (8%), and 1,683 (19%) developed obesity defined by BMI, WC, or PBF, respectively. Compared with no RE, 60-119 min/wk of RE was associated with 30%, 41%, and 31% reduced risk of obesity defined by BMI (hazard ratio [95% CI], 0.70 [0.54-0.92], p = 0.008), WC (0.59 [0.44-0.81], p < 0.001), and PBF (0.69 [0.57-0.83], p < 0.001), respectively, after adjusting for confounders including age, sex, examination year, smoking status, heavy alcohol consumption, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, diabetes, and AE. Compared with not meeting the RE guidelines of ≥2 d/wk, meeting the RE guidelines was associated with 18%, 30%, and 30% reduced risk of obesity defined by BMI (hazard ratio [95% CI], 0.82 [0.69-0.97], p = 0.02), WC (0.70 [0.57-0.85], p < 0.001), and PBF (0.70 [0.62-0.79], p < 0.001), respectively. Compared with meeting neither guideline, meeting both the AE and RE guidelines was associated with the smallest hazard ratios for obesity. Limitations of this study include limited generalizability as participants were predominantly white men from middle to upper socioeconomic strata, use of self-reported RE, and lack of detailed diet data for the majority of participants.
Conclusions: In this study, we observed that RE was associated with a significantly reduced risk of obesity even after considering AE. However, meeting both the RE and AE guidelines was associated with the lowest risk of obesity.