Iowa State study shows weightlifting lowers risk of cardiovascular disease


Courtesy of D.C. Lee

D.C. Lee is an associate professor in the kinesiology department at Iowa State. Courtesy of D.C. Lee

Adolfo Espitia

Carrying heavy groceries can potentially be beneficial to your heart.

Part of a funded project in the National Institute of Health (NIH), Iowa State followed over 12,000 middle aged men and women for 10 to 11 years, tracking the rate of death by heart attack or stroke. The studies found that around an hour of weightlifting per week was associated with 40-70 percent decrease risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

D.C. (Duck-chul) Lee, an associate professor in the kinesiology department and researcher, said a surprising finding in the study indicated that weightlifting more than an hour at the gym provided no additional benefits.

“More than four times per week, for an hour or more per week was not associated with additional benefits, that was a little surprising,” Lee said.

For students that aren’t gym-goers, Lee said muscle strengthening activities could include: pushing a lawnmower, body weight exercises and even carrying heavy groceries. Lee said that strength training is under-appreciated and that roughly 20 percent of Americans meet the muscle strength guidelines, critical for reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease.

For beginner gym-goers, Lee recommended that for general muscle strength, students should perform 2-3 sets of 8-12 reps, picking a weight that allows to do only a maximum of 12 reps. Beginners should start showing benefits by 8-12 weeks of strength training.

Strength training is not only excluded to men,  Lee said it is very important for women to include strength training in their exercise regime.

Lee said women should also strength train by gradually increase in intensity of resistance exercise. By gradually increasing in repetition, women can prevent injury, especially for those who have never strength trained.

Lee also said students should continue exercise even if they don’t see immediate weight loss. Students can still get healthier if there is no physical change. Aside from cardiovascular benefits, strength training can also reduce anxiety and depression, which Lee said is important for students.

“Even though you do not lose weight, you still get cardiovascular benefits,” Lee said. “Many people believe ‘If I exercise I will lose weight and that’s why I get health benefits’, but that is not true. Don’t stop exercising if you don’t lose weight.”

What about the students who are concerned about looking like a bodybuilder?

Lee said it is very difficult to obtain that image. It would not be realistic, and it wouldn’t happen for most people.