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Adding strength to boost heart

November 28, 2005|Jeannine Stein | Times Staff Writer

When it comes to dodging weight gain, high blood pressure and diabetes, most of us go for the cardio, trudging on the treadmill or easing into the elliptical trainer to slim down and get healthy.

But aerobic activities aren't the only workouts that help stave off these problems, it turns out. A new study has found that strength training -- at least for men -- can have a positive effect on metabolic syndrome, a cluster of risk factors for heart disease that include high cholesterol, insulin resistance, high blood pressure and obesity.

The study, published in the November issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, tracked about 3,200 men for six years. Those who had the greatest muscle strength were also at lower risk for metabolic syndrome -- about 40% lower than their counterparts who had the least amount of muscle strength. Similar results were found among normal weight and overweight men, young and old.

"We know that resistance training can reduce hypertension, but we didn't know if it could affect the combination of metabolic abnormalities," says the study's lead author Radim Jurca, an exercise physiologist and epidemiologist at the Cooper Institute in Dallas. Other research, he says, has shown that strength training improves insulin sensitivity, but until this study "we didn't know if resistance training could affect all the symptoms."

He hopes that the same holds true for women, but as yet there are no studies to back this up.

Despite the findings, Jurca doesn't recommend ignoring cardio altogether, since it's beneficial for the heart and lungs. In addition to cardio activities, he suggests including an aerobic element to resistance training by using lower weights and more repetitions to increase heart rate.

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