Just an hour a week of resistance training may be enough to significantly reduce your risk of heart attack or stroke, a recent study suggests. A 2nd study shows that a small dose of resistance exercise may hold metabolic syndrome at bay.
The findings show once again that any amount of physical activity is beneficial to your health.
In a study of almost 12,600 adults over 10 years, researchers found that small amounts of resistance exercise per week resulted in between 40% and 70% fewer cardiovascular events. But doing more than that provided no additional benefit.
Dr. Alon Gitig, a cardiologist at Mount Sinai Riverside Medical Group, in Yonkers, New York, said:
“Strength training is not just to make yourself look good to be shirtless on the beach. It has definite health benefits … and seems to directly impact on cardiovascular health.”
Gitig was not involved in the study.
Weightlifting is one type of resistance exercise. Other types include push-ups, sit-ups, or lunges.
Study author Duck-chul Lee said he believes there is less evidence of the health benefits of weightlifting because it is an activity traditionally associated with athletes and not the average person just looking to become/stay fit.
“People know that running or cardio exercise is good for the cardiovascular system, but there are benefits of weightlifting on the heart that were not [previously] well-studied.”
Resistance Training and Heart Benefits – A Little Goes a Long Way
For the study, Lee and his colleagues studied about 12,600 participants (average age 47) who had undergone at least 2 clinical examinations between 1987 and 2006. The participants self-reported their levels of resistance exercise, and follow-ups were done about 5 and 10 years later.
Resistance exercise was shown to reduce heart attack and stroke risk independently of aerobic exercise, such as walking or running.
Participants who did resistance exercise 1 to 3 times and up to 59 minutes in all each week saw their risk of heart attack or stroke decline by up to 70%, compared to those who completed no resistance exercise.
The study didn’t prove that weightlifting reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke, it merely shows that an association exists.
“We found benefits of resistance exercise without body mass index [changes]. It means that even though you don’t lose weight, you can still get benefits for the heart. People believe the benefits of exercise are from losing weight, but that’s not true.”
“People may think they need to spend a lot of time lifting weights, but just 2 sets of bench presses that take less than 5 minutes could be effective.” 
The problem with starting this type of physical activity and sticking with it, Lee points out, is that it’s harder to incorporate weightlifting and other forms of resistance exercise into your daily routine. For that reason, he recommends joining a gym. Doing so provides more resistance exercise options. Furthermore, previous studies have found that people who belong to a gym exercise more.
But if you don’t want to join a gym and you don’t own a set of weights, you can still do resistance exercise at home with your own body weight, a medicine ball, or resistance bands.
“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.”
In separate research, Lee and his team found that even less than an hour of resistance exercise was associated with a 29% lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome, an umbrella term for several health conditions that increase the risk of heart disease, stroke, and Type 2 diabetes.
This minimal amount of resistance exercise lowered the risk of high cholesterol by 32%. And like the first study, the results were independent of aerobic exercise.
“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.”