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Lifting Weights Just Once a Week Can Cut Your Heart Disease Risk in Half

Bicycling logo Bicycling 11/4/2018 ​Selene Yeager

© skynesher/Getty Images For the longest time, experts said you had to do aerobic exercise for heart health and strength training to protect your muscles and bones.

Now, new research published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows that even if you do no actual “cardio,” pumping iron will strengthen your most important muscle-your heart-and protect you from having a cardiovascular event like a heart attack or stroke, or even dying from it.

For the study, researchers sieved through survey and medical data from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study (ACLS), which included 12,591 men and women with average age of 47. The participants had completed extensive lifestyle and exercise surveys and came in to the Cooper Clinic for at least two preventive health examinations between 1987 and 2006.

After crunching the data, the researchers found that even a little bit of strength training went a long way for preventing heart disease. They found that as little as one session a week, or less than an hour of pumping iron, cut the participants’ risks of heart disease and dying from a cardiovascular event by 40 to 70 percent, even if they didn’t get the recommended amount of aerobic exercise every week.

Strength training was also linked to a lower body mass index (BMI), which is also associated with better heart health.

More research is needed to back up these findings and to further understand how resistance training can improve heart health. But it’s possible that resistance training’s effects on calorie expenditure, physical function, and mood-it’s been shown to reduce anxiety and depression, both of which can take a toll on your ticker-may help explain the reduction in heart risks.

[Want to fly up hills? Climb! gives you the workouts and mental strategies to conquer your nearest peak.]

Bottom line: Even if experts aren’t exactly sure what’s responsible for strength training’s heart-healthy effects, there’s no reason to put off pumping iron. Strength training is a well-established way to build bone, improve body composition, manage blood sugar, and of course, put more power into your pedal stroke and make you more efficient (so you can go longer without fatiguing) when you ride.

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