Strength training has been found to lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes, regardless of whether or not you do cardio.

To lower your risk of developing type 2 diabetes and heart disease, we should do regular aerobic exercise. These guidelines include the American Heart Association and the American Diabetes Association. Two new studies have shown that strength training is critical to reducing these risks. A little can go a long way in improving your health.

The March issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise published research that found that people who strength trained regularly had a 40-70 percent lower risk of suffering a heart attack, stroke, or death due to heart disease than those who didn’t.

A related study published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings this month found that moderate muscle strength reduces type 2 diabetes risk by 32 percent, regardless of an individual’s cardiovascular fitness. The data from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas was used for both studies. This ongoing cohort is now known as the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study.

“It is well-known aerobic exercise is good for the heart and prevents stroke or heart attack,” DC (Duck-Chul), Ph.D., associate professor in kinesiology at Iowa State University, Ames, who was also a co-author on both studies. However, it needs to be clarified if resistance exercise benefits the heart. Our research suggests that weightlifting alone may be enough to lower the risk of developing heart disease. “

Dr. Lee and his colleagues found strength exercises had benefits independent of running, walking, or any other aerobic activity.

Lee states that even a tiny amount of strength training per week may reduce the risk of developing heart disease. The Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise study found that people who did strength training once per week for any time had a lower risk than those who didn’t. He says that it doesn’t matter what kind of exercise you do. Resistance exercise, also known as “strength training” or “weight training,” is any exercise that increases the resistance in your muscles.

He says, “My muscle doesn’t know the distinction if I’m digging in my yard, carrying heavy shopping bags, or lifting a dumbbell.”

Research Data suggests that any amount of strength training will likely lead to heart benefits.

Researchers analyzed data from 12,591 people aged 18 to 89 who had undergone at least two Cooper Clinic clinical exams between 1987-2006. They were also part of the Cooper Center Longitudinal Study. Participants were asked to complete a questionnaire about their medical history and report their resistance exercise and aerobic activity.

Contrary to those who did not do strength training, those who did resistance exercises for up to 59 minutes a week saw a 40 to 70% decrease in the chance of heart attack, stroke, or death due to heart disease. However, putting in more than an hour or four times per week did not reduce the risk of developing diabetes or heart disease. It was better than not doing any strength training at any level.

“It is not clear why higher strength or/or high levels of resistance training did NOT protect against diabetes or cardiovascular disease,” Angelique Brellenthin, Ph.D., postdoc research associate in Kinesiology at Iowa State University co-author of this diabetes study, says.

Study authors suggest that high-intensity resistance training could play a role in heart disease by increasing arterial stiffness. Brellenthin said that there needs to be more evidence to support a weekly recommendation for strength training. This is especially true when considering potential health outcomes, such as osteoporosis or frailty.

The study on type 2 diabetes incidence was done using a smaller group of people from the Cooper Clinic database. This study included 4,681 individuals who didn’t have diabetes at the beginning of the study. Participants were subject to maximal treadmill exercise and muscular strength tests before they were allowed to enroll in the study.

Over an average of eight years, 229 people in that group developed type 2 diabetes. Data showed that those with moderate muscle strength at the start of the study had a 32 percent lower risk of developing diabetes during the follow-up period.

Further research is needed to determine what strength training amount will provide the most significant benefit to reduce the risk of developing heart disease or diabetes.

Brellenthin states that the bottom line is: “Doing some resistance training — whatever you can fit into your schedule — will likely provide benefits.”

This doesn’t mean you can skip the cardio. Experts agree that aerobic exercise is essential.

The results also indicated that those who did strength training regularly (as mentioned above) received these heart disease and diabetes prevention benefits regardless of whether they followed the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. These guidelines recommend that adults engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity weekly.

Sarah Samaan, MD, a cardiologist at Baylor Scott & White Legacy Heart Center, Plano, Texas, warns that resistance training should not be used in place of aerobic exercise. She says that the two should be considered in combination. Aerobic exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of stroke, heart disease, and dementia and to improve memory and general well-being.

Dr. Samaan mentions that adding resistance to aerobic exercise is especially beneficial to type 2 diabetes patients.

“Resistance exercises may be especially beneficial for weight loss. Samaan states that abdominal fat reduction, which is more dangerous and inflammatory, can be another benefit of training and lower your risk of developing diabetes or heart disease.

Both studies are correlational. These studies show a relationship between strength training and the risk of developing heart disease or diabetes. However, this data alone is not sufficient evidence to support that strength training causes these outcomes.

Brellenthin says, “We would like next to conduct a random controlled trial directly comparing aerobic exercise and resistance exercise on chronic diseases risk factors like blood pressure and lipids [bloodfats] and glucose [blood sugar].”

These data could be used to help researchers discover the mechanisms that underlie these findings.

Samaan, however, echoes Brellenthin’s message: Exercise should be done regularly.

Samaan states that most Americans don’t exercise regularly, which undoubtedly contributes to their high rates of obesity, hypertension, and heart disease.


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