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Resistance Exercise and Heart Health

Building muscle can reduce heart disease risks.

“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 [in reducing heart disease risks],” according to study author DC Lee, PhD, associate professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, Ames.

Researchers analyzed data collected over 19 years from more than 12,000 male and female adult participants in The Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study conducted at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas.

Data analysis showed that resistance exercise performed one to three times a week was associated with lower risk of cardiovascular disease events, independent of aerobic exercise levels. Higher frequency of resistance exercise (such as four or more times per week) or longer duration (such as ≥ 2 hours per week) did not yield significantly more benefit.

Lee notes that body-weight exercises like pushups, squats and lunges should be beneficial as well, but further studies are needed to establish minimum and ideal intensity levels of resistance training for health benefits. “In terms of frequency, we found one to three times per week provided significant cardiovascular benefits . . . we did not have data on intensity since it is not easy to measure accurately.”

The study authors suggested that possible mechanisms for the reduction in cardiovascular disease risk may be “improved physical function, increased energy expenditure, and emotional factors such as relief from anxiety, depression or insomnia. Muscle is the power plant to burn calories,” said Lee. “Building muscle helps move your joints and bones, but also there are metabolic benefits. . . . If you build muscle, even if you’re not aerobically active, you burn more energy because you have more muscle. This helps prevent obesity and provides long-term benefits on various health outcomes.”

The study was reported in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (2018; doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001822).

Shirley Eichenberger-Archer, JD, MA

Shirley Archer, JD, MA, is an internationally acknowledged integrative health and mindfulness specialist, best-selling author of 16 fitness and wellness books translated into multiple languages and sold worldwide, award-winning health journalist, contributing editor to Fitness Journal, media spokesperson, and IDEA's 2008 Fitness Instructor of the Year. She's a 25-year industry veteran and former health and fitness educator at the Stanford Prevention Research Center, who has served on multiple industry committees and co-authored trade books and manuals for ACE, ACSM and YMCA of the USA. She has appeared on TV worldwide and was a featured trainer on America's Next Top Model.

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