New US research has found that lifting weight for less than an hour a week could reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke by 40 to 70 percent.
Carried out by researchers at Iowa State University, the new large-scale study looked at 12,591 participants with an average age of 47 years.
The researchers assessed the participants' level of resistance exercise using self-reported questionnaires, and investigated the possible association between this type of exercise and three health outcomes: cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke that did not result in death, all cardiovascular events including death, and death from all causes.
The findings, published in the journal Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, showed that resistance exercise reduced the risk for all three health outcomes included in the study.
Engaging in a total of 1 to 59 minutes of weightlifting per week, split over either one, two, or three sessions, was associated with a 40 to 70 percent reduced risk of experiencing a cardiovascular event.
Similar results were also found when looking at the risk of death from cardiovascular events and death from all causes.
However, four sessions a week or spending more than an hour weightlifting did not bring any additional benefit, the researchers found.
"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 author Duck-chul Lee.
The results, which are some of the first to look at the relationship between resistance exercise and cardiovascular disease, also showed that benefits of the exercise are independent of running, walking or other aerobic activity, meaning that even if individuals do not meet the recommended guidelines for aerobic physical activity, weight training alone may be enough to lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
The researchers noted that resistance exercise is not as easy to incorporate into a daily routine as aerobic exercise, with Lee suggesting a gym membership to give individuals access to weights and more options for resistance exercise. In a previous study Lee also found that people with a gym membership exercised more.
However, although the current study did look specifically at use of free weights and weight machines, such as those found in a gym, Lee added that any resistance exercises or muscle-strengthening activities will still bring benefits.
"Lifting any weight that increases resistance on your muscles is the key," Lee said. "My muscle doesn't know the difference if I'm digging in the yard, carrying heavy shopping bags or lifting a dumbbell."
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