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Benefits of Weight Training for Chronic Health Conditions

Beat Heart Disease, Diabetes, Metabolic Syndrome with Weights


Updated May 19, 2014

Weight Training for Chronic Health Conditions

If you're unfortunate enough to have a chronic disease, that is, a persistent, longer-term disease, weight training can probably help. In recent years progressive resistance training or PRT has been used in a wide range of disease settings in order to assist with day to day function or even to achieve more permanent improvement.

Cardiovascular Disease
Weight training is increasingly approved in cardiac rehabilitation programs, usually to complement aerobic training. With appropriate supervision and programming it has been shown to be safe and effective in building strength and mobility and the capacity to complete a wider recovery training program. Cardiovascular disease includes heart attacks, stroke, artery disease and heart failure.

Metabolic Syndrome
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of symptoms which can include excess weight, high blood pressure (hypertension), glucose intolerance and high cholesterol. Both aerobic training and resistance training provide benefits. High-intensity weight training is ill-advised for those with uncontrolled hypertension.

In a randomized trial, high-intensity progressive resistance training in type 2 diabetics improved glucose control, increased lean body mass, reduced systolic blood pressure, reduced fat mass, reduced glycated hemoglobin A1c and allowed a reduction in medication compared to a non-exercise control group. (Castaneda 2002)

Weight training programs are increasingly being recommended in diabetes management.

Strength training has been employed with success with cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, for breast cancer patients post-surgery, and has been shown to prevent and even reverse the adverse effects of testosterone suppression chemotherapy in men with prostate cancer. Benefits in all situations included lean mass maintenance, strength and fitness enhancement.

In one randomized trial, high-intensity progressive weight training was found to be more effective than low-intensity weight training or medical care for the treatment of older depressed patients. (Singh 2005)

Additional studies of resistance training for depression have produced positive results, perhaps in relation to sleep and mood enhancement.

Evaluation of the effects of exercise on bone quality suggest variable results according to age, hormonal status, nutrition and exercise type. However, in a review, a Tufts University group stated that: "Both aerobic and resistance training exercise can provide weight-bearing stimulus to bone, yet research indicates that resistance training may have a more profound site specific effect than aerobic exercise." (Layne 1999)

Lung Function and Rehabilitation
Rehabilitation from, or management of deficiencies in lung function such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) usually involve aerobic exercise such as walking. In recent years however, strength training has also been trialled with some success. It seems that strength and perhaps stability improvements provide the functionality to increase exercise capacity and tolerance, resulting in better performance all round.

Parkinson's disease
A ground-breaking study found that high-force eccentric resistance training produced improved mobility in Parkinson's disease patients compared to conventional care. Eccentric training targets the return movement of joint action -- a straightening leg under weight emphasizing the quadriceps muscle of the thigh for example. (Dibble 2006)

Weight training has been shown to be safe and provide benefits within a general fitness program for sufferers of HIV/AIDS.

Arthritis and Fibromyalgia
Both osteoarthritis and autoimmune rheumatoid arthritis responded to strength training with measurable benefit in carefully constructed programs of progressive resistance training. The belief that joint inflammation, pain and inflexibility as a result of arthritis are best treated with rest and little movement stress seems to have gone right out the door as the exercise modalities prove their worth in maintaining and perhaps restoring function. Optimum programs are still to be established.

Fibromyalgia patients have responded positively to resistance training.

The list above is probably not comprehensive : new applications of weight training for health conditions emerge regularly. I'll keep you updated.

Singh NA, Clements KM, Fiatarone MA. A randomized controlled trial of the effect of exercise on sleep. Sleep. 1997 Feb;20(2):95-101.
McCartney N. Role of resistance training in heart disease. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1998 Oct;30(10 Suppl):S396-402. Review.
Quist M, Rorth M, Zacho M, et al. High-intensity resistance and cardiovascular training improve physical capacity in cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2006 Oct;16(5):349-57.
Singh NA, Stavrinos TM, Scarbek Y, et al. A randomized controlled trial of high versus low intensity weight training versus general practitioner care for clinical depression in older adults. J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2005 Jun;60(6):768-76.
Castaneda C, Layne JE, Munoz-Orians L, et al. A randomized controlled trial of resistance exercise training to improve glycemic control in older adults with type 2 diabetes. Diabetes Care. 2002 Dec;25(12):2335-41.
Layne JE, Nelson ME. The effects of progressive resistance training on bone density: a review. Med Sci Sports Exerc. 1999 Jan;31(1):25-30. Review.
Panton LB, Golden J, Broeder CE, et al. The effects of resistance training on functional outcomes in patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. Eur J Appl Physiol. 2004 Apr;91(4):443-9.
Dibble LE, Hale TF, Marcus RL, et al. High-intensity resistance training amplifies muscle hypertrophy and functional gains in persons with Parkinson's disease. Mov Disord. 2006 Sep;21(9):1444-52.
Kettunen JA, Kujala UM. Exercise therapy for people with rheumatoid arthritis and osteoarthritis. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 2004 Jun;14(3):138-42. Review.
Lakka TA, Laaksonen DE. Physical activity in prevention and treatment of the metabolic syndrome. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2007 Feb;32(1):76-88. Review.

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