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After Heart Attack, Lifting Weights Lifts Mood

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"Whether or not we have defined what's happening biologically, there clearly is something at work," she tells WebMD.

Weight training has traditionally been underemphasized in cardiac rehab programs. Yet the elderly especially can reap great rewards from even a little weight pumping -- if they'll be willing to do it.

"I think people are afraid to weight train, especially the elderly," Glassberg says, noting that this fear is misplaced. "The elderly actually have more to gain than younger people. Older folks lose more muscle mass as each year goes by."

Retaining and building muscle mass is very important for older women, not just for cardiovascular reasons but for overall health and bone strength. "So it shouldn't be something we avoid," she says.

People with hypertension also tend to be unnecessarily fearful of weights, says Glassberg. "They just need to use light weights. In fact, studies have shown that you can actually lower your blood pressure better with light weight training."

She makes these recommendations:

  • Get your doctor's OK to try weight lifting.
  • Do it under the supervision of an exercise physiologist, if possible.
  • Use only two- to five-pound free weights. Build up the number of repetitions slowly.

Too many people become "cardiac cripples" after their heart attack or bypass surgery, Glassberg continues. Ironically, fear of another heart attack is at the root of it.

"We know we can reduce that by a significant amount by having them participate in an exercise program. Adding weights adds to the enjoyment of it, their sense of control, sense of their own strength and own fitness."

"It's important they know that physical activity can help them feel less depressed and less anxious and can get them safely back to work, back to their old lifestyles."

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