How Much Strength Training Should You Do to Avoid a Heart Attack?
For basic cardiovascular health, strength training for as little as an hour or less a week can reduce risk of heart attacks or strokes by 40 to 70%. This finding comes from a new study of nearly 13,000 people that concluded beyond an hour a week, more workouts did not increase the heart benefits of weight training.
While researchers looked specifically at the use of free weights and weight machines, they say the findings apply to resistance exercises or other muscle-strengthening activities.
“Lifting any weight that increases resistance on your muscles is the key,” said DC Lee, an author of the study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise. “People may think they need to spend a lot of time lifting weights, but just two sets of bench presses that take less than five minutes could be effective,” he added.
The results show the 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 cardiac risk; weight and resistance training alone is enough to maintain heart health.
The study also suggests that strength training also lowers the risk of developing metabolic syndrome and high cholesterol, both contributors to heart disease.
“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 Lee, an associate professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, US. “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.”
Still, strength training is unlikely to replace aerobic exercise completely. One shortcoming, say researchers, is that resistance exercise is not as easy to incorporate into our daily routine as aerobic activities like walking, biking to the office, or taking the stairs. But there are more opportunities for natural strength training than people think, Lee says.
“Lifting any weight that increases resistance on your muscles is the key,” he said. “My muscle doesn’t know the difference if I’m digging in the yard, carrying heavy shopping bags or lifting a dumbbell.”