Resistance training (weightlifting, bench-pressing, etc.) typically gets a lot less attention than aerobic exercise. While doctors frequently tout the latter for its health benefits, far less is known about the effects of resistance training, until now.

A team of researchers, lead by D.C. (Duck-chul) Lee, Ph.D., an associate professor of kinesiology at Iowa State University, conducted a study of nearly 13,000 adults over a 10 year period and found that strength training or weightlifting for less than an hour a week results in a 40 to 70 percent reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. And that’s not all — the research shows that resistance trainers reaped a 29 percent lower risk of metabolic syndrome (people suffering from high blood pressure, high blood sugar levels, and excess fat around the waist) and a 32 percent lower threat of hypercholesterolemia (high cholesterol), both of which are associated with an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

In an interview with Thrive Global, Lee explains what constitutes resistance training: “Anything you can imagine in the gym: free weights, such as dumbbells and barbells, and machines built for chest and leg presses, leg extensions, as well as lat pulldown machines.”

Although prior research by Lee indicates that people who have gym memberships are more inclined to workout, he assures us that incorporating unconventional forms of weightlifting into our daily lives can be a suitable substitute: “Muscle-strengthening activities like digging, carrying heavy shopping bags, pushing a heavy lawn mower, carrying your chubby toddler, anything that increases your muscle activities, could provide the same rewards,” he says.

The benefits hold whether or not participants also did cardio workouts. “Additionally, we controlled for smoking, alcohol consumption, body weight, age, gender, and several other factors, but the results remained the same,” he says.

The most surprising takeaway from the study, in Lee’s view, is that those who spend several hours a week pumping iron didn’t receive much greater advantages than those who spent considerably less time doing so. While we may not achieve muscular or chiseled physiques by strength-training for less than an hour a week, “working out more hours per week did not provide any additional health rewards,” he says.

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  • Stephanie Fairyington

    Contributing Writer at Thrive

    Stephanie Fairyington is a contributing writer at Thrive. A New York-based journalist, her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Atlantic (online), The New Republic (online), The Boston Globe, and several other publications. She lives in Brooklyn, NY with her spouse Sabrina and daughter Marty.