Cardiovascular disease, including heart attack and stroke, is the leading cause of death worldwide kill approximately 8-10 million deaths a year. Risk factors include poor diet, diabetes, obesity, a sedentary life style, and cigarette smoking. Physical activity can go a long way in reducing a person’s risk for cardiovascular disease with most of the studies focusing on aerobic activity including running, cycling, or walking. Less work has been done on the ability of resistance or weight training to decrease risk for cardiovascular disease. While resistance training has been shown to improve bone health and quality of life, there are still questions whether it can improve cardiac function. In a recently published study, an international team of researchers looked prospectively at a cohort of 12,591 people to see if resistance training could decrease cardiovascular mortality or all cause mortality.
The team assessed resistance exercise in the participants using a medical questionnaire which also assessed the amount of aerobic exercise each person performed. Follow up 5 years later showed that resistance exercise one, two or three times a week reduced risk for a cardiovascular disease event (heart attack, stroke) by 40-70% independent of aerobic exercise. This means that regardless of how often somebody participated in aerobic exercise, resistance exercise was able to reduce their risk of heart attacks and strokes. The same results were seen with mortality from any cause. The team was also able to determine that the effect of resistance exercise was two-fold: 1) to decrease cardiovascular disease risk directly, and 2) to decrease cardiovascular disease risk indirectly by decreasing body mass index, a marker for obesity.
These results highlight the importance of exercise on heart and overall health regardless of if it is aerobic (cardio) or weight lifting. There are some caveats to this study that should be kept in mind: 1) the amount of resistance exercise was recalled by participants and not directly measured which could result in over estimation on the amount and duration of exercise by each person, 2) the intensity of the exercise wasn’t measured and could significantly impact the results, 3) the majority of the participants in this study were male and so we don’t yet know if these effects are equivalent in both males and females. With those limitations in mind, it will be very interesting to see if prescribed resistance exercise will make its way into our treatment regimes for people with cardiovascular disease. Future work should focus on at risk populations and elderly to determine how resistance exercise could be tailored for their needs.