Women’s advantage for cheating heart disease

I know the benefits of regular exercise, and I make an effort to get out and walk every day.

But a weight lifter, I’m not.

Maybe you’re like me. Maybe your exercise regimen is all about aerobics, not about getting stronger.

What if I told you that, as a woman, you can add some healthy years to your life by adding a little strength training to your routine?

The research backs me up. And you don’t have to become a gym rat to make it happen.

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Women reduced cardiovascular mortality by 30 percent

Research has found that when women add strength training to their routine just two or three days per week, they can lower their risk of dying from heart disease.

Of the 400,000 people in the study, those who did regular weight training saw tremendous benefits…

“What surprised us the most was the fact that women who do muscle strengthening had a reduction in their cardiovascular mortality by 30 percent,” says Dr. Martha Gulati, director of preventive cardiology at Cedars Sinai in Los Angeles, in an interview with NPR.

“We don’t have many things that reduce mortality in that way.”

Women benefitted with less effort than men

Men and women both face serious risks from cardiovascular disease (CVD), though in different ways: Men may have a higher incidence of CVD, while clinical evidence demonstrates women have a higher rate of mortality following a sudden cardiovascular event.

One surprising finding in the study was also about differences in the sexes…

Women who trained regularly didn’t have to work as long or as hard as men did to reduce their cardiovascular risk and increase longevity.

For example, women who did moderate-intensity exercise, such as brisk walking, five times a week, reduced their risk of premature death by 24 percent, compared to just 18 percent for men.

It’s not exactly clear why, but the physiological differences between men and women, and differences in heart disease risk, might go toward explaining it.

Since people born female have less muscle and aerobic capacity, they may need less exercise to change that baseline.

“It might be that this relative increase in strength [in women compared to men] is what’s driving this difference in benefit,” says Eric Shiroma, a prevention-focused researcher at the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health.

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What counts as strength training?

To see benefits benefits like these, you don’t need to run out and join a gym.

Strength training can be intimidating, Shiroma says. “But it’s not all bodybuilders trying to lift super amounts of weight.”

He says there are many ways to incorporate resistance training into your life besides weight machines.

Any activity that requires your muscles to work against a weight or force counts as strength training. This includes the use of resistance bands, as well as using your own body weight by doing push-ups, squats and even walking.

However, doing these things regularly seems to be key. And guess what? “The benefits start as soon as you start moving,” Shiroma says.

Other benefits of strength training

Resistance training boosts health in five other ways, which may contribute to greater longevity:

1. Strength training helps protect joints. If you have knee or hip pain, it may be because of weak muscles. Strong muscles support joints.

2. Building muscle burns more calories. Running may burn more calories in the moment. But if you build muscle, those muscles will require energy every time you use them.

3. Resistance training protects against injuries and falls. Muscle mass peaks in our 30s then starts a long, slow decline. If we don’t work against this, we end up with sarcopenia, putting us at risk of falls and fractures, as well as increasing our risk of other debilitating diseases.

4. Strength training helps control blood sugar. When we use our muscles during exercise, whether it’s pushing, pulling, lifting or moving, they require more glucose for energy. This explains why exercise after meals can help control blood sugar.

5. Muscle building may help boost our mood.  Research has shown that strength training improves symptoms of depression and anxiety. It gets your blood flowing. Makes sense, doesn’t it?

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Women who do strength training live longer. How much is enough? — NPR

Sex Differences in Association of Physical Activity With All-Cause and Cardiovascular Mortality — Journal of the American College of Cardiology

Joyce Hollman

By Joyce Hollman

Joyce Hollman is a writer based in Kennebunk, Maine, specializing in the medical/healthcare and natural/alternative health space. Health challenges of her own led Joyce on a journey to discover ways to feel better through organic living, utilizing natural health strategies. Now, practicing yoga and meditation, and working towards living in a chemical-free home, her experiences make her the perfect conduit to help others live and feel better naturally.