A Weighty Issue for Exercise Buffs
Dumbbells Are Smart
Wayne Westcott, fitness research director at the South Shore
YMCA in Boston, Mass., couldn't agree more. Westcott has spent the better part
of 30 years preaching the virtues of weight training for everyone -- young and
old, healthy and sick.
"The cardiovascular system doesn't act independently of the
muscular system," says Westcott, author of 16 books on strength training
and fitness. "Every muscle you have acts as an auxiliary heart."
Having strong muscles is especially important for people with
heart problems. Many cardiac patients, Westcott says, stress their hearts doing
simple, everyday activities like walking up stairs, painting a wall, or trying
to open a stuck window. "But strong muscles [help] accomplish these tasks
easily," he says. "The better the condition of your muscles, the more
they can help your heart."
Adding resistance to your exercise program, Westcott says,
makes the heart pump faster. That forces the left ventricle -- the part of the
heart that pumps blood to most of your body -- to worker harder and become
stronger. Just like other muscles, the heart responds to hard work by growing
thicker, stronger walls. "You get a larger left ventricle that pumps more
blood with each beat, and you get a stronger pump and you can have a lower
resting heart rate," he says.
If a healthier heart isn't enough reward, there are some other
benefits that might motivate you to start pumping iron. For instance, would you
like to shed a few pounds? An Ohio University study on the effects of
resistance training on lipoprotein concentrations that appeared in last year's
first quarterly issue of the Journal of Strength and Conditioning
Research reported no change in those blood parameters. But the study did
note changes in the subjects' bodies. "The training program resulted in
significant alterations in body composition (decreased in percent of body fat)
and fiber composition," the authors wrote.
That makes sense, says Westcott, who has conducted his own
studies on resistance training and weight loss. Here' s why: In a 30-minute
session of weight training, most people burn 260 calories, Westcott says. But
resistance training gets the body so revved up that two hours after you've
grunted the last repetition, your body is still burning calories at a
supercharged rate. "You don't come back to a normal metabolic rate for the
next two hours," Westcott says.