Lifting weights for about an hour a week lowers your risk of heart attack by up to 70%
03/18/2019 // Zoey Sky // Views

When it comes to exercise, strength training is often associated with better bone health, whereas aerobic (also called cardio) exercise is linked to a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. However, weightlifting can help "reduce your risk for a heart attack or stroke," says a study published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

Weightlifting and heart health

For the study, Duck-Chul Lee, a professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University (ISU), and his team analyzed data from more than 13,000 adults in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study. The researchers measured three health outcomes:

  • Cardiovascular events (e.g., heart attack and stroke that did not result in death.
  • All cardiovascular events including death.
  • Any type of death.

Lee noted that resistance exercise reduced the risk for all three outcomes. However, he posited that while the results are encouraging, it remains to be seen if individuals can incorporate weightlifting into their lifestyle and if they can commit to it. The findings showed that lifting weights for less than one hour every week can help lower your risk for a heart attack or stroke by as much as 40 to 70 percent. However, the researchers added that exercising for over an hour in the weight room did not offer any additional benefit.

He also explained that while individuals may worry about having to spend a lot of time lifting weights, doing only two sets of bench presses (which only takes less than five minutes) will be just as effective.

The study, which was the first of its kind to determine a link between resistance exercise and cardiovascular disease, revealed that the benefits of strength training are independent of running, walking, or other aerobic exercises. This means a person doesn't have to meet the recommended guidelines for aerobic physical activity to lower their risk and that weight training alone is enough to reap benefits.


Obstacles associated with resistance training

While the study suggests that weight training is beneficial for heart health, the researchers acknowledged that compared to aerobic activity, resistance exercise is not as easy to incorporate into a regular daily routine.

A person can cycle or walk to the office, but there aren't that many natural activities associated with lifting. Some individuals may own a stationary bike or treadmill at home, but not everyone has access to weight machines. Because of this, Lee suggests availing a gym membership, especially for those looking to boost their heart health by lifting weights. In a previous study, Lee and his team determined that aside from offering more options for resistance exercise, individuals with a gym membership exercised more.

The current study specifically looked at the use of free weights and weight machines, but Lee shared that individuals can still reap benefits from other resistance exercises or any muscle-strengthening activities. He explained, "Lifting any weight that increases resistance on your muscles is the key." If you don't have weights at home, Lee suggests carrying heavy shopping bags or even working in your garden or yard.

If you want to start weightlifting at home, you can also use equipment such as:

  • Adjustable dumbbells
  • Barbell with weights
  • Kettlebells
  • A power rack
  • Resistance bands
  • A weight bench

Most studies on strength training have focused on bone health, physical function, and quality of life among older adults. Lee noted that aside from cardio exercises, weight lifting is just as good for your heart. It even offers other health benefits. (Related: New research shows that even a single workout session can provide lasting protection for your heart.)

The research team used the same dataset to determine the link between resistance exercise and diabetes, along with hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol). The two studies, which were published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, revealed that resistance exercise lowered the risk for both conditions.

The two studies indicated that less than an hour of weekly resistance exercise, compared with no resistance exercise, was linked to a 29 percent lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a condition that can increase your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.

Meanwhile, the risk of hypercholesterolemia was 32 percent lower. The researchers said that the results for both studies were also independent of aerobic exercise.

Lee said that muscle is the power plant to burn calories and that while building muscle helps move your joints and bones, doing so also offers metabolic benefits.

He concluded that you can still build muscle even if you're not "aerobically active" and that you burn more energy if you have more muscle. Weightlifting can help reduce your risk of becoming obese, and it can also provide long-term benefits for different health conditions.

Sources include:

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