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A Little Weight Training Can Do a Lot to Cut Cardiovascular Risk, Study Finds

AJMC Staff
Researchers described the study as one of the first to examine how strength training can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, separate from the effects of aerobic activity like running or long walks
If you’re lifting weights to improve your health, a new study from Iowa State University finds that a little goes a long way, at least when it comes to cutting the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Findings published recently in Medicine and Science in Sports Exercise show that lifting weights for less than an hour per week can reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke between 40% and 70%. However, spending lots of extra time in the weight room does not bring additional benefits, the researchers found.

“People may think they need to spend a lot of time lifting weights, but just two sets of bench presses that take less than 5 minutes could be effective,” D.C. Lee, associate professor of kinesiology and a co-author of the study, said in a statement.

Researchers described the study as one of the first to examine how strength training can reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, separate from the effects of aerobic activity like running or long walks. The point: for those who are not meeting recommended guidelines for aerobic activity—perhaps because they lack the time—bursts of weight training can be enough.

“The results are encouraging, but will people make weightlifting part of their lifestyle? Will they do it and stick with it? That’s the million-dollar question,” Lee said.

For this study, the team looked at data from 13,000 adults in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study and examined 3 outcomes: cardiovascular events, such as heart attack and non-fatal stroke; all cardiovascular events including deaths; and any type of death.

According to the abstract, in the stratified analyses by forms of aerobic exercise, weekly resistance exercise of 1 time or 1-59 minutes was associated with lower risks of total cardiovascular events and cardiovascular disease, regardless of meeting the aerobic exercise guidelines. The analysis showed that resistance training reduced the risk of cardiovascular events in 2 ways: training had a direct association with cardiovascular risk, and resistance training indirectly lowered cardiovascular risk by decreasing body mass index.

While aerobic activity may require more minutes per week to see benefits (150 minutes per week are recommended), resistance training presents a different challenge: it can be more difficult to work into one’s daily routine.

Lee said while a gym membership was shown to increase a person’s likelihood to do resistance training, it’s not necessary. “Lifting any weight that increases resistance on your muscles is the key,” he said. “My muscle doesn’t know the difference if I’m digging in the yard, carrying heavy shopping bags or lifting a dumbbell.”

He pointed to data sets in Mayo Clinic Proceedings that found resistance training reduced the risk of developing metabolic syndrome or hypercholesterolemia. “If you build muscle, even if you’re not aerobically active, you burn more energy because you have more muscle. This also helps prevent obesity and provide long-term benefits on various health outcomes.”

Reference

Liu Y, Lee DC, Zhu Y, et al. Associations of resistance exercise with cardiovascular disease, morbidity, and mortality [pubished online October 29, 2018]. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2018; doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001822.

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