The American Heart Association (AHA) yesterday updated a scientific statement on the benefits of weight lifting, or resistance training, for people with heart disease to help doctors assess and instruct patients in its safe use.

The statement is published as a paper in the early online edition of the AHA journal Circulation.

Resistance training is often recommended by doctors to help patients increase health and fitness.

Research shows that when properly supervised and prescribed in the light of a patient’s history and condition, whether they have cardiovascular disease or not, resistance training increases muscular strength, endurance, independence, and ability to perform a large range of activities. It reduces disability and enhances quality of life. Other benefits include increase in bone mineral density and lean body mass.

According to Reuters Health, Dr Mark Williams, chair of the AHA group that updated the scientific statement and is from Creighton University School of Medicine in Omaha, Nebraska, said that:

“Just like we once learned that people with heart disease benefited from aerobic exercise, we are now learning that moderate weight training also has significant benefits.”

Williams said it helped people be independent and better perform daily tasks, like “lifting sacks of groceries”.

The AHA first published a statement in 2000 outlining the rationale and benefits of prescribing resistance training. This latest update focuses more on safe guidelines for doctors.

As well as confirming the health benefits, among other things it describes the impact of resistance training on the cardiovascular system, how it changes the course of cardiovascular disease and risks, how to assess and prepare patients to use it and how to prescribe it.

The main recommendations are that doctors make sure patients embarking on resistance training for the first time:

  • Exercise in a rhythmical manner, using a slow to moderate speed that is controlled.
  • Exhale on the effort, inhale on the return (eg when doing a shoulder press, exhale when you exert effort to push the weight up, inhale when you relax and bring it down).
  • Avoid holding their breath and ensure a full range of motion.
  • Alternate between upper and lower body workouts.
  • Choose weights and the appropriate number of repetitions per set according to their health status, frailty and age.
  • Limit the workout to a single set, 2 days a week.
  • Involve the major muscle groups of the upper and lower body: chest press, shoulder press, triceps extension, bicep curl, lat pull-down, lower-back extension, abdominal crunch/curl, quad extension, leg press, leg curl, and calf raise.

It is important that when patients start resistance training for the first time, they don’t overdo it, said Williams. Their muscles need time to get used to it. Encourage good practice to avoid soreness and injury, he said.

“Resistance Exercise in Individuals With and Without Cardiovascular Disease: 2007 Update. A Scientific Statement From the American Heart Association Council on Clinical Cardiology and Council on Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Metabolism.”
Mark A. Williams, William L. Haskell, Philip A. Ades, Ezra A. Amsterdam, Vera Bittner, Barry A. Franklin, Meg Gulanick, Susan T. Laing, and Kerry J. Stewart.
Circulation, Published online before print July 16, 2007

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Written by: Catharine Paddock
Writer: Medical News Today