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The health benefits of lifting weights go beyond building muscle

A recent study investigated whether one of the benefits of lifting weights is reducing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Resistance exercise has been shown to improve many cardiovascular disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes. However, there is limited information on the benefits of lifting weights on cardiovascular events such as a heart attack or stroke, which can often be fatal.

Resistance or strength training is a form of exercise that improves muscular strength and endurance. Whereas weight training is a type of strength training which helps with strengthening and building muscle using weights or weight machines for resistance.

A recent study by researchers at Iowa State University has looked at data collected in the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study for nearly 13,000 adults. The results were published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.

They measured three health outcomes:

  1. Cardiovascular events such as heart attack and stroke that did not result in death
  2. Cardiovascular events including death
  3. Any type of death

The results showed that resistance training reduced the risk of all three health outcomes measured.

Lifting weights for less than one hour a week could reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke by 40-70%

The benefits of resistance or strength training are independent of aerobic activities such as running and walking. This means that weight training on its own could be enough to lower the risks of heart-related events.  But how much time do you need to spend lifting weights per week to see the benefits?

Despite popular belief that you need to spend a lot of time lifting weights, according to the study, even just two sets of bench presses are effective. Two sets of bench presses typically take an individual less than five minutes. The results showed that spending more than one-hour lifting weights did not result in any additional benefits. Overall, the findings showed that lifting weights for less than one hour per week could reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke by 40-70%.

Challenges to resistance training

Despite the encouraging results, the biggest issue remains an individual’s adherence to exercising. Even though as little as one hour per week making a significant difference, the question is whether people will make weightlifting a part of their exercise routine? And even more important, will they stick to it?

As resistance training is not as easy to incorporate into a daily routine, the likeliness of people incorporating it and sticking with it may be slightly more challenging. Many people move by walking, taking the stairs, or riding a bike, but there are limited everyday activities which incorporate lifting. Also, people tend to have treadmills or stationary bikes at home and less access to weights.

A gym membership may help these challenges. In general, it has been found people who have a gym membership exercise more. Also, lifting any weight that increases resistance on the muscles is key. The body does not know the difference between a kettlebell or heavy shopping bags. The body still benefits from any muscle strengthening or resistance exercises.

Resistance training can be just as good for the heart as cardio

Most people focus on cardio exercises such as running, cycling or swimming when considering ways to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease. However, this recent study has shown that lifting weights can be just as good for your heart as cardio and have additional benefits on your health.

For example, they also looked at the relationship between resistance training and diabetes, as well as with high cholesterol. Patients who did less than one hour per week of resistance training, compared to patients who did no resistance training, had a 29% less chance of developing metabolic syndrome, which increases an individual’s risk of stroke and diabetes. Furthermore, the results also showed a 32% lower risk of high cholesterol in patients who did resistance training.

There are many unrecognized benefits of lifting weights

In conclusion, these findings show there are many health benefits of lifting weights that are not as widely recognized. You burn more energy building muscle, even if you are not aerobically active. Not only can it reduce the risk of cardiovascular events such as stroke or a heart attack, but it can also help prevent obesity and the development of diseases such as diabetes. The long-term health benefits are significant and indicate that more individuals should lift weights on a daily basis.  The next time you are grocery shopping, maybe consider the basket instead of the trolley.

Written by Lacey Hizartzidis, PhD


  1. Liu Y, Lee DC, Li Y, Zhu W, Zhang R, Sui X, Lavie CJ, Blair SN. Associations of Resistance Exercise with Cardiovascular Disease Morbidity and Mortality. MedSci Sports Exerc. 2018 Oct 29. doi:10.1249/MSS.0000000000001822.
  2. Weightlifting is good for your heart and it doesn’t take much. EurekAlertwebsite Accessed January 19, 2019.
Lacey Hizartzidis PhD
Lacey Hizartzidis PhD
Lacey has a Ph.D. in Medicinal Chemistry from the University of Newcastle in Australia. Her research investigated the use of flow chemistry to synthesize potential anti-cancer agents. Having authored a number of articles published in international journals, she has developed a love for writing. Coupled with her passion for science and health, Lacey truly enjoys writing for Medical News Bulletin and helping people to understand the important and exciting scientific research being conducted around the world. With an adventurous spirit, Lacey also enjoys travelling the world, living a healthy life and helping others to do so as well.


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