Lifting weights has gotten a bad name lately. Once thought of as the ultimate path to the perfect body and good health, some studies showed that it could have the opposite effect by raising cholesterol levels.
But before you toss the free weights, new research shows that weight training is an excellent way to maintain good health without any ill effects.
Robert Staron of Ohio University and his colleagues followed 32 healthy men and women ages 19 to 26 who were not using weights regularly. During the eight-week weight-training program, participants did three exercises for the lower body twice a week. Researchers studied blood samples taken from participants during and after the study, paying close attention to lipoproteins, which transport water-insoluble fats in the blood and are involved in an individual's overall cholesterol count.
Although the researchers noted no reduction in cholesterol, they also found no increase. But the participants did show other health benefits, including a significant decrease in body fat and increase in muscle strength, despite the short duration of the study.
"I think our research has shown, and other research supports this, that resistance training is not a bad thing," says Staron, an associate professor of anatomy in the university's College of Osteopathic Medicine. "It's becoming apparent that any activity is good, whether it's resistance training, endurance training or a combination of both. There are some benefits you can get from strength training that you can't get from endurance training and vice versa."
Some studies by scientists elsewhere had found that weight lifting increased cholesterol levels, while others found that exercise decreased cholesterol. The contradiction prompted Staron to launch this short-term, high-intensity study. His findings suggest that young, healthy people experience no change in cholesterol levels as a result of weight training, but he added that it's possible that any exercise, including resistance training, could improve lipoprotein level in people with high cholesterol.
Long-term resistance training could have a positive impact on lipid profile," says Staron. "And when we consider all the favorable changes that did occur during the study, continued training may well have resulted in favorable changes in cholesterol." Todd Shryock (firstname.lastname@example.org) is SBN's special reports editor.