Pumping Iron Good for the Ol' Pump

From the WebMD Archives

Feb. 17, 2000 (Atlanta) -- Now that Valentine's Day has gone the way of a high school sweetheart, it's time to do more for your heart than just smell the roses and eat chocolate. Dust off that New Year's resolution and head to the gym, with a sweet deal in store: At least 10 minutes on the weights may be just as good for you as 30. That's not part of an infomercial, but instead part of a scientific advisory from the American Heart Association (AHA).

The new advisory, published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association, supports the growing consensus that lifting weights may be good for more than just your waistline. Weight training, also called resistance training, can ease the stress on the heart when lifting or carrying objects, according to a panel of experts appointed by the AHA to review all the scientific literature on the subject of weight training and heart health. In Hypertension, another journal of the AHA, there's further evidence of the positive effects of weight training on the heart, namely lowering blood pressure.

The AHA advisory calls for a single set of eight to 15 repetitions, using eight to 12 different exercises, for two to three days a week. Advisory co-author Barry Franklin, PhD, says what's exciting is that a panel of experts reviewing the scientific literature on the subject found just the single set was adequate for most people starting an exercise program to get the strength and endurance benefits. Franklin is a physiologist and director of the cardiac rehabilitation program and exercise laboratories at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Mich.

The news is not revolutionary, but the AHA's endorsement of the information is important. The importance of this advisory is that "you have the AHA embracing this, it's been a long time coming really, so I think that's great," Paul M. Vanderburgh, EdD, tells WebMD.

"What's unique about this is for many, many, many years, coaches, athletes, physicians said if you're going to do this [lift weights], do three sets of 10. Go do a set, rest, go again, rest," Franklin tells WebMD. But after a review of the literature, those starting a new exercise program doing only one set of 10 repetitions still had 90% of the improvement as those doing three sets.

Vanderburgh, an associate professor in exercise science at the University of Dayton, tells WebMD, "for the otherwise healthy, not elite athlete, population, one set seems to do the trick."

The AHA's advisory recommends the weight lifting as a "complement to, rather than replacement for, a person's aerobic" workout, says Franklin. But for people using "lack of time" as a hurdle to beginning a new exercise program, this new advisory takes away one more excuse. Although the advisory technically claims "a comprehensive resistance-training program of eight to 10 exercises can be accomplished in 20 to 30 minutes", Franklin says for some people, "this is the kind of routine that can be done in 10 minutes."

It's not for everybody, though, according to the advisory. Franklin says the recommendations are safe for healthy people, meaning people who may have had a heart attack but are otherwise not experiencing any symptoms, such as chest pain or shortness of breath.

"Weight training can lower the risk of having a heart attack or stroke by lowering the LDL "bad" cholesterol, raising the HDL "good" cholesterol and reducing blood pressure, Franklin tells WebMD. It can also reduce the potential for the development of diabetes by improving the metabolism of blood sugar.

In the Hypertension study, led by George A. Kelley, DA, researchers reviewed data from 11 studies and found that weight training reduced blood pressure by up to 4%. Kelley is director of the meta-analytic research group at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb.

And for the elderly, weight training can help stave off osteoporosis and help maintain the ability to carry out daily activities, Franklin says.

Kelley agrees: "I think people in general see it [weight training] as something to increase strength and muscle mass, and now they're hearing more about it possibly improving bone density ... and it may improve your [risk of having a heart attack or stroke].

Kelley says currently, though, only 16% of adults between the ages of 18 and 64 in the U.S. participate in progressive resistance exercise at least twice a week.

Vital Information:

  • The American Heart Association reports that adding 10 minutes of weight lifting to a regular exercise routine can help the heart work more efficiently and may even lower blood pressure. For the elderly, weight lifting can help fight osteoporosis as well.
  • The organization adds that doing between eight and 12 different exercises for just one set of eight to 15 repetitions each is enough to see these benefits. Weight lifting should be done two or three times a week, in addition to aerobic exercise.
  • Other medical groups have made similar claims but stressed multiple sets of exercise. This recommendation is based on studies demonstrating most of the benefits can be achieved from the one-set regimen.