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After Heart Attack, Lifting Weights Lifts Mood

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WebMD Health News

Sept. 19, 2001 -- After heart attack or bypass surgery, the fear of more heart problems often plunges men into depression. But a new study shows that lifting a few light weights on a regular basis actually can lift a guy's spirits, plus it can reduce the risk of another bad heart episode.

The report was scheduled for presentation at the annual meeting of the American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation in Minneapolis on Sept. 13. The meeting was canceled, however, due to the tragedies last week.

The study started with 46 men, all in their mid-50s with heart disease and depression, and assigned them to one of three groups. Over a three-year period, 20 trained with weights and aerobic exercise three times a week; 16 did aerobic exercise only; and 10 did not exercise.

The results: "Men who did weight training plus aerobic exercise were less depressed, less anxious, and felt better about themselves," writes Helene Santa-Clara, PhD, a researcher at Lisbon Technical University in Portugal.

It all makes perfect sense, says Helene Glassberg, MD, director of preventive cardiology and lipid center at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia. She was not involved with the study but commented on it for WebMD.

"We know that aerobic exercise prevents heart disease," Glassberg says. "Many studies have shown that people who participate in cardiac rehab have better mood, better sense of well-being, better sense of control over their own health.

"This is the first time that there's been some good, strong evidence that weight training helps reduce risk, too," she says.

And every bit of this workout combo makes another heart attack less likely, Glassberg says.

"This is the first study that's suggested the importance of weight training -- the combination of weight training and cardiovascular exercise," she tells WebMD. Until now, researchers didn't realize how much this type of combined exercise can help.

Why weight training? It likely pumps up those feel-good hormones, says Glassberg. "Perhaps it's the enhanced endorphin release that give people a sense of well-being, perhaps it's testosterone release that makes people feel more aggressive, stronger."

There's a biological mechanism at work, one that researchers are struggling to understand, she tells WebMD.

"We know that the type-A personality -- high-stress people -- have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease," she says. Situational stress seems to increase stickiness of platelets, creating more blood clotting and inflammation of arteries, which doctors have known can contribute to the risk of having a heart attack or heart disease. "Perhaps all of this comes into play more than we ever realized," she says.

The "stickier platelet" theory is fairly new, says Glassberg. Studies conducted at Duke University School of Medicine have shown that the antidepressant Zoloft helps prevent platelets from sticking together -- or clotting -- which, in turn, lowers risk of heart attack or stroke.

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