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From The Desk of Clarence Bass

Dangers of Heavy Lifting
Laszlo Talks Back to
The Wall Street Journal

A number of people called our attention to an article which appeared on March 13, 2003, in The Wall Street Journal Online (WSJ.com): Fears Mount Over Dangers Of Hoisting Heavy Weights. "It does make you question whether high intensity training might have a serious downside," one man wrote. "The article is cause for concern," he opined.

Kevin Helliker, a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, writes that weight lifting is good for you – recent studies show that it can lower blood pressure, combat diabetes and strengthen bones – but he warns that it can also be "lethal." That is, for people who have an aortic aneurysm, a bulge in their primary artery, the aorta. The vast majority of people with an aneurysm don’t know they have one, he reports.

Aneurysms kill 32,000 Americans a year, according to Helliker. Senior citizens are especially vulnerable.

People with aneurysms probably shouldn’t be engaging in any type of strenuous activity, including shoveling snow or changing a tire. Is that cause for widespread concern about high intensity training? My friend Laszlo didn’t think so and fired off the following email to Helliker.

Sir: So aneurysms, stroke, and "dissection" (separation of the aortic walls) can be caused by heavy weight lifting. Whew! It's a wonder that any of the millions of weightlifters in the world can still walk. Even more amazing that so many of them live to ripe old ages in a high degree of health. Dr. Elefteriades advises codgers over 40 to bench press no more than half bodyweight. My, my. Why not limit these fragile oldsters to foreplay in the bedroom? After all it's well known that orgasm is a killer, too.

Common sense dictates conservatism when you know you have a medical impairment. Nor can a person expect to cancel a lifetime of neglect with a lifting program begun at age 60. But let's face it: all must die. What's so much worse about dying in the gym as opposed to dying after a long and debilitating illness? Bing Crosby signed out on the golf course after a good 18 holes. If a heavy squat puts me under, that's just fine with me.                            Yours, László Bencze

Laszlo is over 40 and has been lifting heavy his entire adult life; he knows his way around a gym. Most people in his position probably share the view that the benefits of heavy lifting far out weigh the dangers. I do. Still, as Laszlo’s last paragraph suggests, that’s no reason to throw caution to the wind.

"Precautionary Advice" is a prominent feature of our home page. "Even if you have no known health problems," we say, "it is advisable to consult your doctor before making major changes in your lifestyle."

"One option for anyone over 60 or with a family history of aneurysms or dissection," says Helliker, "is to get scanned before starting a lifting program. "Most aneurysms and dissections can be detected by CT scan, according to Helliker. I’ve had three body scans at the Cooper Clinic, starting when I turned 60.

Helliker specifically warns against "maximum-effort [single rep] lifting," and slow lifting, where muscles may be contracted for 60 seconds or more compared to two or three seconds in regular speed lifting. Both can cause dangerous spikes in blood pressure and lead to problems for vulnerable people.

"I would not recommend slow lifting" for anyone concerned about stroke, aneurysm or dissection, or for those with uncontrolled hypertension, Wayne Westcott, director of research at the South Shore YMCA in Quincy, Mass, and a proponent of slow lifting, told The Journal.

"Invariably," says our home page, "if you are out of shape or want to start training, follow the advice of the American Medical Association: Start slowly and increase the vigor and duration of activity as your fitness improves."

Always train, weights and aerobics, with safety in mind. Use common sense.

Ripped Enterprises, 528 Chama, N.E., Albuquerque, New Mexico 87108, Phone (505) 266-5858, e-mail:  cncbass@aol.com, FAX:  (505) 266-9123.  Office hours:  Monday-Friday, 8-5, Mountain time.

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