Does Lifting Weights Give You a Heart Attack?

Lifting weights DOES NOT give you a heart attack, insists Dr Aashish Contractor.
But if you have a heart condition, you must seek opinion from a medical expert before you sign up for or resume any form of physical training.

In recent times, there have been several incidents of young people, including actors and celebrities reporting a cardiac arrest and succumbing to life while working out at the gym.

This, of course, has led to a debate whether high intensity workouts are the reason behind the sudden increase in cardiac deaths.

You need to understand that lifting weights DOES NOT give you a heart attack.

Of course, common sense needs to be applied, and we are talking about weight training done in a scientific and healthy manner, without the misuse of supplements.

Let’s first understand the myths commonly associated with strength training that need to be dispelled:

Myth 1: Strength training leads to a cardiac arrest

Until a few years ago, only aerobic exercises, such as walking, running, cycling, swimming etc were considered beneficial.

Training with weights (also known as resistance training) was rarely recommended. And patients with heart problems were strictly advised to stay away from weights.

Today, the situation is different. Thanks to our sedentary lifestyle, strength training has become important to all.

But if you’ve had a cardiac arrest, you must seek opinion from a medical expert before you sign up for or resume any form of physical training.

For example, strength training should not be begun, until at least 4 to 6 weeks after the cardiac event. Also, it is very important for cardiac patients to begin at a very low level using light hand weights (less than two kg), and then gradually progress to higher weights.

There are a few positive benefits of strength training for cardiac patients, which include:

  • Increase in HDL (good) cholesterol
  • Mild decrease in LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Improved blood sugar control (especially for diabetics)
  • Improved sense of well-being


Myth 2: Lack of exercise turns muscle to fat

Truth: Muscle doesn’t turn to fat. Inactivity can cause your muscles to shrink and more fat to be deposited, but muscle doesn’t turn to fat.

Muscle and fat are different types of tissues.

Fat could replace the muscle so your arm or waist is the same size, but your body composition would be different.

You would have more body fat and less muscle. In fact, if you start to become inactive, you may notice a change in appearance before a change in weight.

Strength training can help you achieve and maintain your healthy weight. Strength training burns calories and can help you lose fat


Myth 3: I’m too old. It’s too late to build strength

Truth: It’s never too late to start a strength training programme.

Even people in their 80s and 90s can participate in a strength building programme and get benefits.

Studies have been done with people in nursing homes who were confined to wheelchairs or had other functional limitations.

After strength training programmes of only eight weeks, they have shown optimistic improvements in muscle strength.

Many were able to walk and perform functions of daily living that improved their independence and quality of life.


Safety Tips for Strength Building Exercises

Whether or not you have a heart condition, following a few basic rules while working out will help you stay safe.

  • If you have any medical problems, consult your doctor before starting a strength training programme.
  • Learn to do the exercises properly, using good form and posture. It is more important to do the exercise correctly than to add weight or resistance. You’ll make more progress and reduce your risk of injury.
  • Breathe properly. Don’t hold your breath or grunt. Holding your breath and straining during strength training exercises can produce unnecessary changes in your blood pressure. Exhale as the force is applied.
  • Those who have had a recent bypass surgery need to be careful about exercises, which cause a strain or stretch on their chest muscles.

Dr Ashish Contractor completed his MBBS from TN Medical College, Mumbai and post-graduate training at the University of Virginia, USA. He has 17 years of experience in cardiac rehabilitation and is currently head of Department (Rehabilitation and Sports Medicine), Sir HN Reliance Foundation Hospital, Mumbai.

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