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After Heart Attack, Lifting Weights Lifts Mood

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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.

"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.

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