A new study has found that just a small amount of resistance exercise can have a big impact on heart health. The researchers are reporting that lifting weights for less than one hour a week can reduce the risk of a heart attack by 40 to 70 percent.
The study also revealed that spending more than an hour in the weight room did not yield any additional gain, which suggests that it does not take a lot of weight lifting for major heart health benefits.
Study lead author DC Lee is an associate professor of Kinesiology at Iowa State University.
“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,” said Professor Lee.
According to the researchers, the benefits of strength training are independent of running, walking, or other aerobic activity. This means that weight training alone can reduce the risk of a major cardiovascular event, with or without meeting the recommended guidelines for aerobic physical activity.
The research team analyzed data of nearly 13,000 adults in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study, and measured three health outcomes including: heart attack and stroke that did not result in death, fatal cardiovascular events, and death from all causes. Incredibly, resistance exercise was found to reduce the risk of all three.
“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,” said Professor Lee.
Unlike aerobic activity, resistance exercise is not as easy to incorporate into an exercise routine. While people may have a treadmill or stationary bike at home, they are not likely to have access to a variety of weight lifting equipment.
Professor Lee recommended a gym membership, but pointed out people can benefit from other muscle-strengthening activities as well.
“Lifting any weight that increases resistance on your muscles is the key. My muscle doesn’t know the difference if I’m digging in the yard, carrying heavy shopping bags or lifting a dumbbell.”
Less than an hour of weekly strength training was also associated with a 29-percent lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome and a 32-percent lower risk of hypercholesterolemia.
“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,” said Professor Lee. “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.”
The study is published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.