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Weight training - a way to reduce your risk of heart disease

Lifting weights offers many benefits

Weight training has been shown to be very effective at helping reduce cardiac risk factors including cholesterol levels, blood pressure, and body fat levels according to a Scientific Advisory published in Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association in 2000.

While aerobic exercises, such as walking, jogging, or swimming, have many excellent health benefits for the heart and increase cardiovascular fitness and endurance—they do not make your muscles strong. Weight training does.

Studies have shown that lifting weights two or three times a week increases muscle mass and bone density. It's also beneficial to people who are watching their waistline. The more muscle you have, the higher your metabolic rate, and the more calories you burn each day. It also helps decrease how hard your heart must work during daily activities and lowers resting blood pressure.

Finally, weight or strength training, in conjunction with regular aerobic exercise, can have a positive impact on a person's mental and emotional health.

The American Heart Association recommends weight training as a way to reduce risk of heart disease and as a therapy for patients in cardiac rehab programs.

You don't have to pump iron like a body builder to experience the benefits. Nor do you need to belong to a gym or purchase expensive equipment. It's something you can easily incorporate into your overall smart heart fitness program.

Some people should NOT do weight training, such as those with unstable angina, uncontrolled high blood pressure, uncontrolled arrhythmias (irregular heartbeat), severe valvular disease, or those who have not been evaluated by a physician.

Be sure to check with your doctor before starting a weight training progam.

It's wise to get some instruction from a qualified trainer initially to ensure you are engaged in appropriate exercises and doing them correctly.

A simple program to follow: (once you've got the go ahead!)

The American Heart Association Science Advisory calls for a single set of 8-15 repetitions, using 8-10 different exercises, 2-3 times per week. Use enough weight that you can complete the desired number of reps - the last one should be difficult, but not impossible.

I use 5 lb weights for my simple weight routine. Depending on your strength and the specific exercise you may want to use more or less. If you've not been exercising your muscles recently it's best to start with a weight that feels "very easy" and build up gradually from there.

Overhead Press

Sit or stand holding weights in hands, elbows bent and weights next to shoulders. Straighten elbows and push weights overhead, palms facing each other and slightly in front of head. Lower arms and repeat.

Front Raises

Stand with feet hip-width apart, abs in and torso upright with weights resting in front of thighs (palms face the thighs). Lift arms to shoulder level, elbows slightly bent and palms facing the floor. Lower and repeat.

Bicep Curl

Stand with feet planted, torso straight and abs in and hold weights in front of thighs, palms facing out. Bend elbow, bringing weights towards the shoulders in a curl. If you find you're swinging the weights to get them up, lower the weight and slow down.

Tricep Extension

Sit or stand and hold one dumbbell with both hands, elbows bent behind the head to 90 degrees. Straighten the arms, squeezing the triceps.

Chest Fly

Lie on your back and grasp your weights with the palms of your hands facing up, and your arms outstretched to the sides. With your elbows slightly bent, lift your arms above your chest until your hands are almost touching. Return to starting position and repeat.

Upper Arms, Shoulders and Back

Standing with feet slightly apart, position your arms straight down in front of you almost against your body - with your weights almost touching. Bend your elbows and lift your weights towards your chin, bringing your elbows out to the side, in line with your shoulders. Return to the starting position and repeat.

Side Raises

Stand or sit with your weights at the side of your body. Lift the dumbbells up to the side and touch at the top.

Bent Over Fly
Support body on a bench or chair. Lift arm out to horizontal. Do not twist your trunk.

Don't forget to keep breathing as you exercise! As the weight training exercises get easier, increase the number of repetitions. Then as it gets easier again, consider increasing your weights slightly.

We Recommend:
Chock full of exercises (with great illustrative pictures) that require little or no equipment, as well as a number of workout programs. A solid resource.

Focused more on the use of free weights and training machines, this is a comprehensive guide to weight training.

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