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"Few studies have reported on the health effects of resistance exercise, and this is the first such study concerning metabolic syndrome. Our results indicate that a modest amount of resistance exercise, such as two 30-minute sessions per week, has the most beneficial effect. These findings should be included in the standard medical recommendations for preventing metabolic syndrome and future cardiovascular disease." Esmée Bakker, MSc, Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre (Science Daily, June 13, 2017)

Resistance Training Stands Alone Against Metabolic Syndrome

Last month we featured a study finding that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) alone, and combined with resistance training, rejuvenated aging muscle cells. This month we have a study finding that resistance training alone, and combined with aerobic training, lowers the risk of developing metabolic syndrome (two or more of the following: high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess belly fat, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels).  The Mayo Clinic was involved in both studies (spearheading the first study and providing the website for publication of the second study) and appears to be leading the charge for the complementary health benefits of resistance and aerobic exercise. Fitness saves lives and medical expenses. Mayo is invested in both.

It wasn’t long ago that the health benefits of exercise were thought to come primarily from endurance training, such as running, cycling, and swimming. That is changing as resistance training takes its place alongside aerobic exercise as the pillars of exercise for health. The significance of this is bolstered by the fact that the subjects in the new study came from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study (ACLS), based on the grounds of the Cooper Aerobics Center in Dallas, Texas, founded and overseen by Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the father of aerobics.

Another noteworthy shift is from volume to intensity. The HIIT in the first study included 4-minute work intervals—and the resistance training here less than one hour a week. A far cry from the mileage based “Aerobics Point System” introduced by Dr. Cooper in his landmark book Aerobics published in 1968. To his credit, the 86-year old Cooper now recommends both strength and aerobic training. He can be seen regularly in the fully equipped (resistance and aerobic) fitness center on the campus of the Cooper Aerobics Center. (Not only have I seen Dr. Cooper going and coming from the Cooper Fitness Center, I visited the Cooper Clinic numerous times during the period covered by the study and may be among the participants; I filled out the ACLS questionnaires numerous times.)

The Study

The study included 7418 participants (mean age 46) who received comprehensive medical exams at the Cooper Clinic between 1987 and 2006. At the beginning of the study, all participants were healthy without metabolic syndrome. Exercise was assessed by self-reported frequency and minutes per week of resistance and aerobic exercise. During the course of the study, 15 percent (1147) of the participants developed metabolic syndrome.

Those doing resistance exercise two or more times a week had a 17 percent lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome, after adjusting for confounders such as smoking and regular aerobic exercise. What’s more, resistance exercise for even less than one hour a week was associated with a 29 percent lower risk, compared with no resistance exercise. Larger amounts of resistance exercise did not provide further benefits.

Individuals doing both resistance and aerobic exercise had a 25 percent lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome, compared with those doing neither form of exercise.

“Participating in resistance exercise, even less than one hour a week, was associated with a lower risk of development of MetS, independent of aerobic exercise,” lead author Esmée Bakker, MSc (Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre) and colleagues concluded. “Health professionals should recommend that patients perform resistance exercise along with aerobic exercise to reduce MetS,” they added.

The study was published on June 13, 2017, in Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

*  *  *

It should come as no surprise that I find this study reassuring. An hour of resistance training once a week combined with aerobic training appears to be protective against the primary cardiovascular risk factors. Make the aerobic training high intensity intervals or sprints and you have my longstanding regiment. More is not better. Walking daily to aid recovery and keep the blood flowing to your body and mind closes the loop.

Combine that with a balanced diet of whole foods and you’ll be lean and healthy for a very long time.

July 1, 2017

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