AMES, Iowa — Weight lifting isn’t for everyone, but according to a recent study, making your way to the dumbbell rack every once in a while could go a long way towards improving your heart health.
Researchers at Iowa State University found that lifting weights for less than an hour per week could reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke by 40% to 70%. Surprisingly, the study also shows that spending more than an hour per week in the weight room did not appear produce any additional benefit. That could be music to the ears of those who take little pleasure in hitting the gym for too long.
“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,” says lead author D.C. Lee, in a media release.
Lee’s study was one of the first to examine resistance exercise and its effects on cardiovascular disease risk. Most of the research on the health benefits of weight lifting thus far has focused on bone health and general quality of life in older adults. Conversely, when it comes to cardiovascular health, most people think of running or other cardio exercises, not lifting weights.
The results indicate that weight training can provide these cardiological benefits even in the absence of additional running, walking, or other aerobic activities. In a nutshell, this suggests that people don’t necessarily have to meet the recommended guidelines for aerobic physical exercise to lower their risk of cardiovascular disease.
Lee and his team used data from nearly 13,000 adults, and looked for three specific health outcomes: nonlethal cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke, both lethal and non-lethal cardiovascular events, and any type of death in general. According to the results, resistance exercise reduced the risk of all three.
“The results are encouraging, but will people make weight lifting part of their lifestyle? Will they do it and stick with it? That’s the million-dollar question,” Lee speculates.
Researchers admit that it is often harder for people to fit weight lifting into their daily schedules, as most people don’t have access to free weights or weight machines at home. For that reason, Lee advocates joining a local gym. However, if you are really not a gym person, Lee says that people can get their muscles a workout in a variety of ways not traditionally associated with weight lifting.
“Lifting any weight that increases resistance on your muscles is the key,” Lee comments. “My muscle doesn’t know the difference if I’m digging in the yard, carrying heavy shopping bags or lifting a dumbbell.”
Researchers also used the same dataset to find that less than an hour per week of weight resistance training can lower risk of high cholesterol by 32% and the risk of metabolic syndrome, which can lead to a stroke or diabetes, by 29%.
“Muscle is the power plant to burn calories. Building muscle helps move your joints and bones, but also there are metabolic benefits. I don’t think this is well appreciated,” Lee says.
The study is published in the scientific journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.