Toned arms, sleek legs and…healthy cholesterol levels? Yes! There’s a new reason to pick up those dumbbells, and it centers on your heart health.

The study: A group of international researchers analyzed data from the Aerobics Center Longitudinal Study, a project designed to learn more about the relationship between lifestyle habits and chronic diseases. The team focused on 7,317 men between the ages of 18 and 83 who were free of high cholesterol and any cardiovascular disease at the time it began. They tracked who developed high cholesterol over an average of four years and how exercise might have influenced their health.

Because time is more informative than frequency according to the researchers, they did a second analysis focused on minutes per week. In this analysis, they found that, independent of the amount of aerobic exercise, doing less than one hour a week of resistance exercise was significantly associated with a 32% reduced risk of high cholesterol. And here’s the most surprising part: More time spent weight lifting didn’t yield better results. In fact, the preventive effects were lower (about 13%) among the men who trained for two hours a week. That’s good news for busy people who are already too time-stretched to work a lot more exercise into their jam-packed schedules.

More good news: The cholesterol-fighting benefits of weight training were also seen in men whose cholesterol levels were borderline—between 200 mg/dL and 239 mg/dL—at the start of the study period. That’s important because 95 million Americans are in this danger zone, right up against the red line for elevated risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke.

You can still be at risk for high cholesterol even if you haven’t been formally diagnosed. Although it can be hereditary, it is most commonly caused by unhealthy lifestyle choices like poor diet, smoking, being sedentary and excess weight. And it certainly doesn’t discriminate: High cholesterol can impact children, women, men and all different body types (even so-called “skinny” types).


More research is needed to understand how pumping iron helps prevent high cholesterol—for instance, could it improve the quality of blood cholesterol or lower triglyceride levels? It’s also not known how diet might have influenced who developed high cholesterol because that wasn’t tracked in this analysis. There could also be other factors used to determine the optimal amount of time people should spend weight training. Indeed, other studies have found that more weekly strength training combined with cardio is better for managing diabetes. The researchers are currently investigating the cardiovascular impact of resistance exercise combined with aerobic exercise in both men and women.


Apart from cholesterol, we do know that weight training increases muscle strength and muscle mass, speeds metabolism, improves physical functioning and boosts weight loss. So, if you have yet to jump on the weight-training bandwagon, use these tips to get started…

  • Work with a trainer to learn correct positioning. This will help improve your progress, motivate you to continue and prevent injuries.
  • Depending on your current ability and preference, choose from weight-training machines, free weights and even resistance bands.
  • Start with one set of eight to 12 repetitions, working the muscles to the point of fatigue.
  • Aim to exercise each muscle group two times per week, with a minimum of two days of rest between workouts.
  • Never hold your breath. Inhale at the beginning of the lift and exhale during the release of each weight.

The bottom line: Adding weight training to your weekly exercise routine will help your heart and your head-to-toe health—and this goes for men and women, cardio junkies and couch potatoes alike.