Lifting weights for less than an hour a week may reduce your risk for a heart attack or stroke by between 40 and 70 per cent, according to a new study by Iowa State University. The research has been published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
Duck-chul Lee, the study’s lead author, said: ‘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.’
The results – some of the first to look at resistance exercise and cardiovascular disease – show benefits of strength training are independent of running, walking or other aerobic activity. In other words, you do not have to meet the recommended guidelines for aerobic physical activity to lower your risk; weight training alone is enough.
Lee and his colleagues analysed data from nearly 13,000 adults in the Aerobics Centre Longitudinal Study. They measured three health outcomes: cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke that did not result in death, all cardiovascular events including death and any type of death. Lee says resistance exercise reduced the risk for all three.
The researchers recognise that unlike aerobic activity, resistance exercise is not as easy to incorporate into our daily routine. Lee says people can move more by walking or biking to the office or taking the steps, but there are few natural activities associated with lifting. And while people may have a treadmill or stationary bike at home, they likely do not have access to a variety of weight machines.
For these reasons, Lee says a gym membership may be beneficial. Not only does it offer more options for resistance exercise, but in a previous study Lee found people with a gym membership exercised more. While this latest study looked specifically at use of free weights and weight machines, Lee says people will still benefit from other resistance exercises or any muscle-strengthening activities.
Less than an hour of weekly resistance exercise (compared with no resistance exercise) was associated with a 29 per cent lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which increases risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes. The risk of hypercholesterolemia was 32 per cent lower.
‘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. 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.’