How to live longer: Lifting weights for less than an hour a week could boost longevity

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Lifting weights for less than an hour a week could reduce your risk of a heart attack or stroke by 40 to 70 percent, a study by Iowa State University found. The results, some of the first to look at resistance exercise and cardiovascular disease, showed benefits of strength training are independent of aerobic activity.

The Aerobics Centre Longitudinal Study, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, analysed nearly 13,000 adults.

Three health outcomes were measures – cardiovascular events such as heart and stroke that didn’t result in death, all cardiovascular events including death and any type of death.

DC Lee, associate professor of kinesiology, said resistance exercise reduced the risk of all three.

“The results are encouraging, but will people make weightlifting part of their lifestyle? Will they do it and stick with it? That’s the million-dollar question,” he said.

A lot of research on strength training has focused on bone health, physical function and quality of life in older adults.

When it comes to reducing the risk for cardiovascular disease, most people think of running or other cardio activity.

But Less said weight lifting is just as good for your heart, and there are other benefits to be had.

Lee and his colleagues also looked at the relationship between resistance exercise and diabetes, as well as high cholesterol.

The two studies, published in Mayo Clinic Proceedings, found resistance exercise lowered the risk of both.

Less than an hour of weekly resistance exercise, when compared with no resistance exercise, was associated with a 29 percent lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome – a condition which increases the risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

The risk of high cholesterol was 32 percent lower.

The results for both studies were also 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,” said Lee.

“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.”

Weekly resistance exercise is recommended by the NHS.

As part of its physical activity guidelines for adults aged 19 to 64 it advises adults aim to do strengthening activities that work all the major  muscles (legs, hips, back, abdomen, chest, shoulders and arms) on at least two days a week.

Adults are also advised to aim to do at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity activity a week.

You should aim to be physically active every day – any activity is better than none.

And you should reduce time spent sitting or lying down, and break up long periods of not moving with some activity. 

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