Weight train­ing may cut the risk of heart at­tacks


De­spite the mus­cle-build­ing, flab-trim­ming and, ac­cord­ing to re­cent re­search, mood­boost­ing ben­e­fits of lift­ing weights, such re­sis­tance ex­er­cise has gen­er­ally been thought not to con­trib­ute much to heart health, as en­durance work­outs like jog­ging and cy­cling do. But a study pub­lished in Oc­to­ber in the jour­nal Medicine & Sci­ence in Sports & Ex­er­cise pro­vides ev­i­dence for the first time that even a lit­tle weight train­ing might re­duce the risk of heart at­tack or stroke. Peo­ple ap­pear to gain this ben­e­fit whether or not they also en­gage in fre­quent aer­o­bic ex­er­cise.

The study drew from an in­valu­able cache of health data gath­ered at the Cooper Clinic in Dal­las, where thou­sands of men and women have been un­der­go­ing an­nual check­ups, which in­clude fill­ing out de­tailed ques­tion­naires about their ex­er­cise habits and med­i­cal his­tory.

More than 12,500 records were anonymised for men and women, most of them mid­dle-aged, who had vis­ited the clinic at least twice be­tween 1987 and 2006. The sub­jects were cat­e­gorised ac­cord­ing to their re­ported re­sis­tance ex­er­cise rou­tines, rang­ing from those who never lifted to those who com­pleted one, two, three or more weekly ses­sions

(or whether they lifted for more or less than an hour each week).

An­other cat­e­gory was aer­o­bic ex­er­cise and whether sub­jects met the stan­dard rec­om­men­da­tion of 150 min­utes per week of brisk work­outs. This ex­er­cise data was then cross­checked against heart at­tacks, strokes and deaths dur­ing the 11 years or so af­ter each par­tic­i­pant’s last clinic visit.

The find­ings were dra­matic: The risk of ex­pe­ri­enc­ing these events was roughly 50 per­cent lower for those who lifted weights oc­ca­sion­ally, com­pared with those who never did — even when they were not do­ing the rec­om­mended en­durance ex­er­cise. Peo­ple who lifted twice a week, for about an hour or so in total, had the great­est de­clines in risk.

(In­ter­est­ingly, the sub­jects who re­ported weight train­ing four or more times per week did not show any sig­nif­i­cant health ben­e­fits com­pared with those who never lifted, al­though the re­searchers be­lieve this find­ing is prob­a­bly a sta­tis­ti­cal ano­maly.)

“The good news,” says Duck-chul Lee, an as­so­ciate pro­fes­sor of ki­ne­si­ol­ogy at Iowa State Univer­sity and coau­thor of the study, “is that we found sub­stan­tial heart ben­e­fits as­so­ci­ated with a very small amount of re­sis­tance ex­er­cise.”

As an as­so­ci­a­tional study, the re­sults show only that peo­ple who oc­ca­sion­ally lift weights hap­pen to have health­ier hearts — not that re­sis­tance train­ing di­rectly re­duces heart-re­lated health risks. The data, though, does re­veal as­so­ci­a­tions be­tween weight lift­ing and a lower body mass in­dex, Lee says, which might be con­nected to fewer heart prob­lems.

He and his col­leagues do not know the specifics of what ex­er­cises peo­ple were do­ing — lat pull- downs? dead lifts? squats? — or how many rep­e­ti­tions they did or at what level of re­sis­tance.

Peo­ple who lifted twice a week, for about an hour or so in total, had the great­est de­clines in risk

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