Moderate muscle strength may lower risk for type 2 diabetes

Of the 30 million Americans with diabetes, 90 to 95 percent have type 2, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

New research shows building muscle strength may be one way to lower risk for the disease. The study of more than 4,500 adults found moderate muscle mass reduced the risk for type 2 diabetes by 32 percent. The benefits were independent of cardiorespiratory fitness, and higher levels of muscle strength did not provide additional protection. The findings are published in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

DC (Duck-chul) Lee, associate professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University and corresponding author of the study, says the results are encouraging because even small amounts of resistance exercise may be helpful in preventing type 2 diabetes by improving muscle strength. However, it is difficult to recommend an optimal level as there are no standardized measurements for muscle strength, he said.

“Naturally, people will want to know how often to lift weights or how much muscle mass they need, but it’s not that simple,” Lee said. “As researchers, we have several ways to measure muscle strength, such as grip strength or bench press. More work is needed to determine the proper dose of resistance exercise, which may vary for different health outcomes and populations.”

Study participants completed chest and leg presses to measure muscle strength. Those measurements were adjusted for age, gender and body weight as potential confounders, which is an example of why researchers say it is complicated to provide general recommendations.

Building strength with resistance exercise

Lee, Yuehan Wang, lead author and former research assistant in Lee’s lab; Angelique Brellenthin, an ISU postdoctoral researcher in kinesiology; along with researchers from the University of South Carolina; Pennington Biomedical Research Center; and Ochsner Clinical School-University of Queensland School of Medicine, analyzed data from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study, collected at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas.

The current study is one of the first to look at the risk of type 2 diabetes and muscle strength, separate from cardiorespiratory fitness. Participants ranged in age from 20 to 100 years old. All were required to complete initial and follow-up exams. Brellenthin says moderate strength reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes regardless of lifestyle choices such as smoking and drinking, or health issues such as obesity and high blood pressure.

While several factors contribute to muscle strength, Brellenthin says resistance exercise is important. Information on resistance exercise was not available for most participants, with the exception of a small group, which showed a moderate correlation between muscle strength and frequency or days per week of resistance exercise. Other research has found resistance training improves glucose levels and reduces waist circumference — an indicator of excess fat associated with type 2 diabetes and other health issues, Brellenthin said.

“You’re not necessarily going to see the results of resistance training on your bathroom scale, but there are several health benefits,” Brellenthin said. “It may help lower your risk for type 2 diabetes even though you do not lose body weight, and we know maintaining muscle mass helps us stay functional and independent throughout life.”

Start small, keep it simple

Based on self-reports, Brellenthin says only 20 percent of Americans meet the guidelines (two days a week of muscle-strengthening activities) for resistance exercise. While data for the study are not sufficient to provide suggestions for weight training, she says some is better than none. Getting started does not require a gym membership or expensive equipment. In fact, you can start at home by doing body-weight exercises.

“We want to encourage small amounts of resistance training and it doesn’t need to be complicated,” Brellenthin said. “You can get a good resistance workout with squats, planks or lunges. Then, as you build strength, you can consider adding free weights or weight machines.”

Could Diet Sodas Raise Older Women’s Stroke Risk?

By Alan Mozes

HealthDay Reporter

THURSDAY, Feb. 14, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Older women, beware: New research warns that drinking a lot of diet sodas or artificially sweetened fruit juices may increase your risk for stroke.

In a study that tracked nearly 82,000 postmenopausal women, those who drank two or more diet drinks per day saw their overall stroke risk rise by 23 percent, compared with those who consumed diet drinks less than once a week.

Blocked arteries were often the main culprit, with heavy diet drink consumption linked to a 31 percent greater risk for an ischemic stroke, which is triggered by a clot, the study findings showed.

Study author Yasmin Mossavar-Rahmani acknowledged that an “association does not imply causation.” But she stressed that the findings held up even after taking into account the nutritional value of each participant’s overall diet.

So, “we can’t assume these diet drinks are harmless, particularly when consumed at high levels,” Mossavar-Rahmani said.

“The take-home message is that these findings give us pause,” she added. “We need to do more research on why we are seeing these associations. What are the scientific mechanisms? Is there something about the artificial sweeteners, for example, that affect the bacteria in the gut and lead to health issues?”

Mossavar-Rahmani is an associate professor in the department of epidemiology and population health’s division of health promotion and nutrition research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, in New York City.

The study authors pointed out that the American Heart Association (AHA) has recently underscored the lack of sufficient research into the cardiovascular impact of diet sodas. Until more work is done, the AHA says the jury remains out on whether artificially sweetened beverages do or do not hasten heart disease.

Women in the latest study were between 50 and 79 when they first enrolled in the Women’s Health Initiative trial between 1993 and 1998.

Investigators tracked the general health of all the enrollees for an average of nearly 12 years. During that time — at the three-year mark — all the women were asked to indicate how frequently they consumed diet sodas and diet fruit drinks over a three-month period.

The researchers did not take note of which brands of artificially sweetened drinks the women drank, and so did not know which artificial sweeteners were being consumed.

That said, nearly two-thirds of the women consumed diet sodas or drinks very infrequently, meaning less than once a week or never. Only about 5 percent were found to be “heavy” consumers of artificially sweetened drinks.

After taking into consideration a variety of stroke risk factors — including blood pressure status, smoking history and age — the study team concluded that heavy consumption of diet drinks did appear to be tied to cardiovascular risks in a number of ways.

For example, those women who drank two or more diet beverages a day saw their overall risk for developing heart disease increase by 29 percent. They were also 16 percent more likely to die prematurely from any cause.

Certain groups fared even worse: Among obese women and black women with no history of heart disease or diabetes, a diet drink habit pushed clot-driven stroke risk up by roughly twofold and fourfold, respectively, the researchers reported.

Whether or not the findings would apply to either men or younger women remains unclear, the study authors noted.

The findings were published online Feb. 14 in the journal Stroke.

Lona Sandon is program director of the department of clinical nutrition at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

She agreed that more research is needed to further explore a possible diet drink-heart disease connection. But for now Sandon offered simple advice: diet or regular, sodas offer no nutritional value other than calories.

“If they replace other drinks, such as milk and 100 percent fruit or vegetable drinks, then these women miss out on valuable nutrition for protecting the heart and vascular system,” Sandon warned.

“The nutrition you are missing because you are drinking artificially sweetened beverages instead may be the real problem,” she said.

A group representing the artificial sweetener industry offered another caveat about the findings — that many women who drink diet drinks are already struggling with weight issues.

“It is likely study subjects were already at a greater health risk and chose low-calorie sweetened beverages to manage their calorie and sugar intake as these products are proven safe and beneficial for those managing their weight and blood glucose levels,” said Robert Rankin, president of the Calorie Control Council.

“The contribution of reverse causality, meaning that individuals already at a greater risk of stroke and cardiovascular events chose low-calorie sweetened beverages, is very likely the cause of the associations presented by these researchers,” the council added in a statement.

How music motivates the brain to learn

Humans have been making, listening, and dancing to music since time immemorial, and this art can easily soothe or amplify our emotions. New research explains what “chords” music strikes in the brain, and how it relates to certain cognitive processes, particularly learning.

In recent years, researchers have shown more interest in how listening to music can pragmatically benefit us in numerous ways.

For instance, studies such as this one, which Medical News Today covered last spring, have suggested that people with Alzheimer’s disease who face anxiety and other stressful emotions cope better when they listen to music.

Listening to certain types of music may even alter our perception and change the way we see potential partners, while happy songs can help boost our creativity.

In a new study, the findings of which feature in the journal PNAS, researchers from McGill University in Montreal, Canada have now shown that we can use music to activate the brain’s reward center and motivate learning in an error prediction model.

“Although many authors have proposed that the intense emotions and pleasures of music result from expectancies, predictions, and their outcomes […], direct evidence for this proposition has been lacking,” the researchers write.

The current research finally gets to the bottom of this proposition, using a musical reward learning task and functional MRI to understand how pleasurable music motivates the brain to learn and to strive for its reward.

Music as a reward that ‘supports learning’

The team worked with 20 participants aged between 18 and 27 years, whom they asked to take part in a musical reward experiment. Each person had to choose a combination of colors and directions, and each combination had a different probability of the participant hearing either pleasant music or a dissonant, unpleasant audio track.

After a few attempts, the participants learned which combinations they should choose in order to increase their chances of accessing the enjoyable music reward.

While the volunteers were participating in this task, the researchers used functional MRI to measure their brain activity. Then, using a special algorithm, the investigators calculated the difference between how often the participants expected to receive their reward and the number of times they actually received it.

On further comparing this data with the functional MRI scans, the team found that correct predictions correlated with heightened activity in a brain area called the nucleus accumbens, which previous research has tied to the experience of pleasure when listening to music.

This finding indicates that music is, in itself, a viable reward and one that can provide enough motivation to the brain to learn new information that will allow it to access this source of pleasure more easily.

Furthermore, the participants who found the right combinations and made the correct predictions the most often, which correlated with heightened activity in the nucleus accumbens each time, also made the most learning progress throughout the tasks.

“This study adds to our understanding of how abstract stimuli like music activate the pleasure centers of our brains,” explains study author Benjamin Gold.

Sleep Patterns May Offer Clues to Alzheimer’s

HealthDay Reporter

WEDNESDAY, Jan. 9, 2019 (HealthDay News) — Poor sleep is common among Alzheimer’s patients, and researchers say they’re beginning to understand why.

Scientists studied 119 people aged 60 and older. Eighty percent had no thinking or memory problems, while the rest had only mild problems.

The researchers found that participants with less slow-wave sleep — deep sleep that’s needed to preserve memories and to wake up feeling refreshed — had higher levels of the brain protein tau.

Elevated tau levels are a possible sign of Alzheimer’s disease and have been linked to brain damage and mental decline, the scientists said.

The findings suggest that poor sleep among older adults could be a warning sign of declining brain health, according to the researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

“We saw this inverse relationship between decreased slow-wave sleep and more tau protein in people who were either cognitively normal or very mildly impaired, meaning that reduced slow-wave activity may be a marker for the transition between normal and impaired,” said first author Dr. Brendan Lucey. He’s an assistant professor of neurology and director of the Washington University Sleep Medicine Center.

“Measuring how people sleep may be a noninvasive way to screen for Alzheimer’s disease before or just as people begin to develop problems with memory and thinking,” Lucey said in a university news release.

He noted that the people with increased tau levels “were actually sleeping more at night and napping more in the day, but they weren’t getting as good quality sleep.”

Lucey doesn’t expect sleep monitoring to replace brain scans or cerebrospinal fluid analysis for identifying early signs of Alzheimer’s disease. “But it could supplement them,” he said. The study only found an association between sleep quality and tau levels.

“It’s something that could be easily followed over time, and if someone’s sleep habits start changing, that could be a sign for doctors to take a closer look at what might be going on in their brains,” Lucey said.

About 5.7 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease. Brain changes associated with the disease can begin up to two decades before symptoms such as memory loss and confusion appear.

The study findings were published Jan. 9 in the journal Science Translational Medicine.

Diabetes: Can we teach the body to heal itself?

In diabetes, the pancreas is unable to produce enough insulin, the hormone that is key to regulating levels of blood sugar. New research now asks if we can teach pancreatic cells to address this problem on their own.

The pancreas contains three different types of cells, each of which produces different hormones that contribute to the regulation of blood sugar levels, one way or another.

These cells are alpha-cells that produce glucagon to boost blood sugar, beta-cells that produce insulin to lower levels of glucagon, and delta-cells that produce somatostatin, a hormone that regulates alpha- and beta-cell activity.

In both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, research has linked the lack of insulin with problems in pancreatic beta-cells.

However, a new study by researchers from the University of Bergen in Norway suggests that, with just a small “push,” we may be able to train the body to start producing adequate levels of insulin once more, on its own.

More specifically, the investigators explain, some alpha-cells could turn into beta-cells and release insulin.

“We are possibly facing the start of a totally new form of treatment for diabetes, where the body can produce its own insulin, with some start-up help,” says study co-author Luiza Ghila from the Raeder Research Lab in the Department of Clinical Science at the University of Bergen.

The researchers explain their findings in detail in a study paper in the journal Nature Cell Biology.

Higher risk of blood clots associated with some HRT tablets

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Some hormone replacement therapy (HRT) tablets appear to be associated with a higher risk of rare but serious venous thromboembolism (VTE), suggests a large study* published today in The BMJ.

However, the study found no increased risk of VTE for HRT skin patches, gels or creams, although the vast majority of women choosing HRT are prescribed oral preparations.

Different treatments of HRT used to relieve menopausal symptoms are available depending on the symptoms, such as tablets containing oestrogen only or a combination of oestrogen and progestogen, as well as ‘transdermal’ treatments, such as patches, gels and creams.

Previous trials have shown increased risks of blood clots in menopausal women using HRT, but there is a lack of information on risks associated with different types of HRT.

Therefore, Yana Vinogradova, a member of an epidemiological team at the University of Nottingham led by Julia Hippisley-Cox, set out to assess the association between VTE risk and all available types of HRT in the UK between 1998 and 2017.

The research team used two UK primary care databases (QResearch and CPRD) and compared HRT prescription records of 80,396 women aged 40-79 years who developed blood clots (cases) with those of over 391,494 women who did not (controls).

Other relevant factors, such as lifestyle, family history of blood clots, and underlying conditions linked to blood clots were taken into account.

Analysis showed that most HRT tablets were found to be associated with increased VTE risk (nine extra cases per 10,000 women per year) compared with no HRT.

Tablets containing equine oestrogen, including single and combined preparations, were consistently associated with higher risks than tablets containing synthetic oestrogen.

In addition, higher doses of oestrogen were also associated with higher VTE risk, but there was no increased VTE risk found for skin patches, gels and creams.

This was an observational study so it could not establish cause and the researchers acknowledged some limitations that may have influenced the results.

Nevertheless, they said: “This study has provided a more detailed picture of the VTE risks for different HRT preparations and can help clinicians and women make treatment choices.”

They suggested clinicians should give greater consideration to transdermal HRT, particularly for women already at an increased VTE risk and in line with recent guidelines.

Royal College of General Practitioners chair Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard said the study was interesting but stressed that it showed association and not causation.

“The menopause is a transition stage for every woman and can cause difficulties for many – and for some specific symptoms, such as hot flushes and night sweats, HRT is the only medical treatment that has good evidence of benefit,” she said.

“While this study is certainly interesting and important, as the authors themselves acknowledge, the findings do not prove that tablets cause more DVTs [Deep vein thrombosis] than patches, just that there is an association. As such, it is essential that more research is conducted in this area and taken into account as new clinical guidelines are updated and developed.

“It’s important that patients don’t panic or stop taking HRT as a result of reading about this study, but instead discuss their concerns at their next routine GP appointment, or seek advice from a reputable website like NHS Choices.”

Flu Cases on Upswing as New Medicine Arrives

Jan. 7, 2019 — As predictable as post-holiday bills and weight loss resolutions, flu activity is on the rise in the U.S., the CDC reports.
Slideshow
Slideshow: Foods for the Flu

For the week ending Dec. 29, 2018, 19 states and New York City reported high flu activity, compared to 9 states and New York City the previous week. More than 1,000 lab-confirmed cases of influenza-related hospitalizations have been reported, and as of Dec. 29, 13 children have died of flu this season.

Experts hesitate to predict how bad a flu season will be, but they say several points are worth noting about year’s flu season:

A new drug to treat flu, Xofluza, is now available to pharmacies nationwide. It joins Tamiflu, the most commonly prescribed treatment.
It’s not too late to get a flu shot.
While symptoms can make you miserable, preventing complications is most important.

New Drug on the Block

Xofluza (baloxavir marboxil) was approved by the FDA in late October and treats flu symptoms, says Andrew Villani, a spokesperson for Genentech, which distributes the prescription medicine. However, when WebMD checked six pharmacies last week, just one had it in stock, although all offered to order it.

Xofluza is a single dose oral medication, and like other medicines for flu, needs to be taken quickly after symptoms start. The ideal window, doctors say, is to start it within 48 hours after symptoms begin.

Xofluza is approved for people 12 years old and older, based on results of a study that pitted the drug against a placebo. The study found the median time to symptoms improving was 54 hours on the drug and 80 hours on placebo, Villani says. “Xofluza helps you recover from the symptoms of the flu in just over 2 days,” he says.

Xofluza Availability

In a telephone spot check of major drug chains in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York City, Minneapolis, Atlanta, and Kankakee, Il., only the Minneapolis drug store had it in stock.

Staff at the other stores said they could order it, giving various timelines about how long it would take to get it in.
Old Standbys

Tamiflu has been on the market since 1999. In 2016, a generic version was approved. It comes in pill or liquid form and can be taken by people 14 days old and older.

It is typically taken twice daily for 5 days. (It can also be prescribed to prevent flu; that regimen is once a day for 7 days.) Besides Tamiflu and Xofluza, the FDA has approved zanamivir (Relenza) to treat flu in people 7 years old and older. A powder that is inhaled, it is usually taken twice daily for 5 days.

Another drug, peramivir (Rapivab), is given in a vein by a health care professional. The FDA approved it for people 2 years old and older. The one-time dose usually takes less than 30 minutes to administer.

More on Tamiflu, Xofluza

Advocates of Xofluza mention the convenience of the single dose vs. 5 days’ worth of Tamiflu doses. While the drugs require different doses and work differently, they have the same result, according to William Schaffner, MD, medical director of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. Both interfere with the flu virus’ ability to reproduce and multiply, he says.
Facts About the Flu Vaccine

No studies have looked at head-to-head comparisons of Xofluza and Tamiflu, says Villani of Genentech, which also markets Tamiflu.

The CDC does not recommend Xofluza for pregnant women or breastfeeding mothers, and it’s also not recommended for flu prevention or patients in the hospital.

Patients don’t seem to know about the newer drug, says Lisa Dabby, MD, an emergency medicine doctor at the UCLA Medical Center in Santa Monica, CA. “Not one person has asked me to prescribe it,” she says of Xofluza. “People know Tamiflu and they ask for it.”

If someone did request the new drug, she would consider prescribing it, she says, but first would want to be sure local pharmacies are stocking it to save patients frustration in finding it. And she reminds them: “These antivirals are not the be-all, end-alls.” They shorten how long symptoms last, but they don’t make them disappear instantly, she reminds patients.

As for side effects, patients on these antivirals most often complain of diarrhea and nausea, she says. Others report headache and common cold symptoms.

In kids, Tamiflu has been linked with some psychiatric side effects, such as irritability and occasional seizures. Those reports have caused some pediatricians to hesitate to prescribe it, Schaffner says. But those symptoms go away once the drug is stopped.
Tamiflu, Xofluza Costs

On a wholesale level, the cost of Xofluza is about $150 and of Tamiflu about $152, Villani says.

Insurance coverage and copays for these two drugs vary. But those who have commercial insurance that covers Xofluza can use a coupon available on the drug’s website and ”may pay as little as $30,” he says. Those without insurance may reduce their costs for it by about $60, with a net cost of about $90, he says.

The generic version of Tamiflu is sold online, without insurance, for about $50.

More Stats on the Flu Season

Usually, flu activity peaks from December through February, the CDC says, and February has been the most common peak month in the past 36 years.

This year, the circulating viruses are predominantly influenza A (H1N1)pdm09 and H3N2, with influenza B viruses also circulating, the CDC says.

The H1N1 viruses have been most prevalent in the United States, but the influenza A (H3) has been most common in the southeastern U.S., the CDC says.

And some good news: Most of the circulating viruses analyzed are similar to the viruses in this season’s vaccine.

Focusing on Complications, Risks

While patients with the flu are eager to feel better and get back to work or family responsibilities, doctors are focused on more than that, Schaffner says. “The main thing we want to do is prevent the serious complications of influenza.”

These include pneumonia, inflammation of the heart, and organ failure. Those at high risk of flu complications include anyone 65 and older, children younger than 5, pregnant women and women who have delivered a baby within the past 2 weeks, Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and nursing home or long-term care home residents. In addition, anyone with health conditions such as asthma, sickle cell disease, lung or heart disease, diabetes, kidney or liver problems, the very obese (BMI of 40 or more), immune system issues such as HIV, or cancer is at high risk of getting complications.

When his patients come back for a follow-up visit after getting through the flu, griping about time off work or flu misery in general, Schaffner says he often tells them: “I’m glad you are [still] here to complain.”

Left brain vs. right brain: How does one dominate?

The two hemispheres of our brain — left and right — specialize in different tasks. A recent study asks how this occurs and reaches a surprising conclusion.

Hemispheric dominance, also known as lateralization of brain function, describes the tendency for either the left or the right side of the brain to carry out specific brain activities.

Even though both sides of the brain are almost identical, one hemisphere primarily carries out some functions over others.

For instance, the left hemisphere houses brain regions linked to speech (or the right hemisphere in left-handed people).

Previously, scientists thought humans were the only creatures to exhibit this phenomenon. However, recent research has found lateralized brain function throughout the animal kingdom — from insects, such as honeybees, to aquatic mammals, including killer whales.

The corpus callosum — a thick tract of nerve cells, known as commissural fibers — connects the two hemispheres. Exactly how dominance is produced remains uncertain.

Recently, researchers from Ruhr-Universität Bochum in Germany set out to investigate this question. They chose to study the visual system of pigeons, and they have published their findings in the journal Cell Reports.

Bird brains and old ideas

Previously, scientists have theorized that one side of the brain simply inhibits the other, allowing it to take dominance.

Co-lead author Prof. Onur Güntürkün explains that “[i]n the past, it had been assumed that the dominant hemisphere transmits inhibitory signals to the other hemisphere via the commissures, thus suppressing specific functions in that region.”

In effect, the dominant hemisphere is thought to overpower its neighbor. However, scientists have also noted that excitatory messages run both ways, so there must be more to this interaction.

The researchers decided to use a pigeon model because other studies have described hemispheric dominance in this species in some detail over recent years.

For instance, in pigeon brains, the left hemisphere takes the lead when it comes to visual processing of patterns and colors. Conversely, the right brain more often deals with social or emotionally charged stimuli.

The scientists trained the birds to perform a color differentiation task. In particular, this challenge involves part of the brain that uses visual information to guide motor activity. In this type of task, the left side of the brain is dominant.

To understand how cross-talk between hemispheres influences dominance, Prof. Güntürkün and co-author Dr. Qian Xiao intermittently switched off some of the neurons that run between the two sides of the brain.

Interfering in cross-talk

After blocking specific neurons running from one side, they would observe the activity of the neurons that usually receive their input on the opposite side. In this way, they could pick apart the way in which the dominant hemisphere exerts its control.

The researchers showed that, rather than merely inhibiting the right side of the brain during this task, the left brain could delay the response of the right brain, so preventing it from getting involved.

As Prof. Güntürkün explains, “The right hemisphere simply acts too late to control the response.”

Rather than merely inhibiting the response, the right brain still operates, but its signals are too late to the party to make a difference to the bird’s behavior.

“These results show that hemispheric dominance is based on a sophisticated mechanism. It does not hinge on one general inhibitory or excitatory influence; rather it is caused by minute temporal delays in the activity of nerve cells in the other hemisphere.”

Prof. Onur Güntürkün

The findings provide an entirely new way to look at hemispheric dominance. Research is bound to continue into this rather peculiar phenomenon that evolution has lovingly conserved throughout many branches of life.

However, it is likely to be quite some time before we understand why dividing tasks between the hemispheres is so evolutionarily advantageous.

Just a Little Weightlifting Can Help Your Heart

By Maureen Salamon | HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Nov. 27, 2018 (HealthDay News) — An hour or less of weightlifting each week might significantly cut your risk of heart attack or stroke, new research suggests.

Evaluating nearly 12,600 adults over more than a decade, scientists found that small amounts of resistance exercise weekly were linked to between 40 percent and 70 percent fewer cardiovascular events.

But doing more weightlifting didn’t reduce these risks further.

“Strength training is not just to make yourself look good to be shirtless on the beach,” said Dr. Alon Gitig, a cardiologist at Mount Sinai Riverside Medical Group in Yonkers, N.Y.

“It has definite health benefits … and seems to directly impact on cardiovascular health,” added Gitig, who wasn’t involved in the study.

Weightlifting uses muscle resistance to strengthen and build muscles. Other types of resistance exercise include pushups, sit-ups or lunges.

Study author Duck-chul Lee said, “Traditionally, weightlifting was for athletes, and that’s why I think there is less evidence on its health benefits, specifically for the heart.” Lee is an associate professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University.

“People know that running or cardio exercise is good for the cardiovascular system, but there are benefits of weightlifting on the heart that were not [previously] well-studied,” Lee added.

In research published separately, Lee and his colleagues found that less than an hour of weightlifting per week also reduced the risk for high cholesterol and metabolic syndrome, a cluster of conditions linked to diabetes. Those reports are in the journal Mayo Clinic Proceedings.

For the heart and stroke study, the researchers studied nearly 12,600 participants (average age 47) who had undergone at least two clinical examinations between 1987 and 2006. The participants self-reported their levels of resistance exercise, and follow-ups were done about five and 10 years later.

The results indicated that the benefits of resistance exercise on heart and stroke risk were independent of aerobic exercise such as walking or running, Lee said.

Compared with participants who did no resistance exercise, those who took part from one to three times and up to 59 minutes in all each week experienced a risk reduction of up to 70 percent.

The study didn’t prove that weightlifting prevents heart attack or stroke, only that an association exists, however.

“We found benefits of resistance exercise without body mass index [changes],” Lee added. “It means that even though you don’t lose weight, you can still get benefits for the heart. People believe the benefits of exercise are from losing weight, but that’s not true.”

Gitig, however, expressed caution about the findings. He said the cardiovascular benefits “seem to be a lot higher than we would expect from strength training.”

In addition, Gitig noted that most participants were male and white, coming voluntarily to the clinic where the study was held. “The question is if confounding variables made these people healthier to begin with,” he said.

Still, Gitig said he wasn’t as surprised by learning about the cardiovascular benefits linked to weightlifting as he might have been five or 10 years ago.

He and Lee agreed that easing into a weightlifting routine should be safe for anyone who’s healthy overall and doesn’t have symptoms of cardiovascular or kidney disease. If you do, check with your doctor first, they said.

“I would counsel my patients that [the research] is very eye-opening and suggests that strength exercise is definitely a good thing overall and may have more powerful benefits than previously thought,” said Gitig, also an assistant professor of medicine at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

And what if you don’t have access to free weights or weight-training machines? Digging in the yard and lugging heavy shopping bags provide strength-training benefits, too, Lee noted.

The study was published online recently in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise.