Even a Little Weight Training May Cut the Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

Despite the muscle-building, flab-trimming and, according to recent research, mood-boosting benefits of lifting weights, such resistance exercise has generally been thought not to contribute much to heart health, as endurance workouts like jogging and cycling do. But a study published in October in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise provides evidence for the first time that even a little weight training might reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke. People appear to gain this benefit whether or not they also engage in frequent aerobic exercise.

The study drew from an invaluable cache of health data gathered at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, where thousands of men and women have been undergoing annual checkups, which include filling out detailed questionnaires about their exercise habits and medical history. More than 12,500 records were anonymized for men and women, most of them middle-aged, who had visited the clinic at least twice between 1987 and 2006. The subjects were categorized according to their reported resistance exercise routines, ranging from those who never lifted to those who completed one, two, three or more weekly sessions (or whether they lifted for more or less than an hour each week). Another category was aerobic exercise and whether subjects met the standard recommendation of 150 minutes per week of brisk workouts. This exercise data was then crosschecked against heart attacks, strokes and deaths during the 11 years or so after each participant’s last clinic visit.

The findings were dramatic: The risk of experiencing these events was roughly 50 percent lower for those who lifted weights occasionally, compared with those who never did — even when they were not doing the recommended endurance exercise. People who lifted twice a week, for about an hour or so in total, had the greatest declines in risk. (Interestingly, the subjects who reported weight training four or more times per week did not show any significant health benefits compared with those who never lifted, although the researchers believe this finding is probably a statistical anomaly.)

“The good news,” says Duck-chul Lee, an associate professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University and co-author of the study, “is that we found substantial heart benefits associated with a very small amount of resistance exercise.” As an associational study, the results show only that people who occasionally lift weights happen to have healthier hearts — not that resistance training directly reduces heart-related health risks. The data, though, does reveal associations between weight lifting and a lower body mass index, Lee says, which might be connected to fewer heart problems. He and his colleagues do not know the specifics of what exercises people were doing — lat pull-downs? dead lifts? squats? — or how many repetitions they did or at what level of resistance. Lee says he is in the early stages of a major study to examine some of those factors. But he doesn’t suggest waiting for those results.

By Gretchen Reynolds for The New York Times

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About Knee Anatomy

To understand the knee joint, we first need to understand the bones of the leg that form the joint. Three bones make up the knee joint – the femur, the tibia and the patella. The femur (thigh bone) is the largest bone in the body and extends from the hip to the knee where it ends in structures known as condyles that are covered in cartilage. The condyles of the femur form the upper part of the knee joint that articulates (bends and glides) against the top of the tibia (shin bone) in a region termed the tibial plateau that is also covered in cartilage. The patella (knee cap), the backside of which is covered in cartilage, sits on the front of the knee and articulates against the femoral condyles.

Between each of the femoral condyles and the tibial plateau sits a crescent shaped soft tissue structure called the meniscus. The meniscus is made from fibrocartilage and acts as a shock absorbing, stabilizing pad between the femur and the tibia. Both meniscus and cartilage tissues lack blood vessels and nerve endings that make repair of these tissues difficult once they are damaged.

Ligaments are another key component of the knee that hold the joint in a stable and properly aligned position as it articulates through a normal range of motion

What is Cartilage 

Cartilage is a tissue that can provide structure, act as a shock absorber, and provide a smooth, friction-free surface that allows our joints to work and our bones to painlessly move against each other. Cartilage is made up of special cells, called chondrocytes, that lay down a tissue made of a specialized protein and collagen fibers around themselves. This tissue, called cartilage, is incredibly important to the human body.

There are three kinds of cartilage:

Elastic Cartilage

Elastic cartilage makes up flexible structures of the body, such as the nose and the ear.


Fibrocartilage is considered inflexible and tough. It acts more like a shock absorber. Examples may be found between the vertebrae of the spine and the menisci of the knee.

Hyaline Cartilage

Hyaline cartilage is found in the articular cartilage that covers the ends of the bones within a joint. It provides a smooth surface to reduce friction when a bone moves over another bone within the joint. Articular cartilage covers the ends of all bones found in joints (knee, ankle, hip, shoulder, elbow, wrist and finger) and allows them to slide freely in the joint.

Become a Part of the NOVOCART 3D Clinical TrialDo you suffer from knee pain due to a cartilage injury? You may be eligible to participate in a research study of the investigational product NOVOCART 3D, a biologic/device combination product designed to restore damaged knee cartilage. Learn More 
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Ask the Doctor!

This regular segment of ‘Ask the Doctor’ addresses questions submitted by Sports Medicine Weekly followers. Dr. Brian Cole from Midwest Orthopaedics at Rush will be discussing:

  • Runners Knee.
  • Exercise after Knee Replacement.
  • Physical Therapy for Plantar Fasciitis .

Sports Medicine Weekly on 670 The Score

If you have a question to be addressed on an upcoming show, please click here to submit your question.

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