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Metabolic syndrome presents as a cluster of risk factors directly linked to cardiovascular and metabolic disease. Individuals with at least three out of five specific risk factors meet the diagnostic criteria for the syndrome. The risk factors include a large waist circumference (>40 inches for men and >35 inches for women), high triglyceride levels, reduced levels of high-density lipoprotein cholesterol (HDL), elevated blood pressure, or high glucose levels. These issues are expedited by systemic low-grade inflammation resulting from visceral adiposity, which negatively alters hormonal dynamics. New research published in The Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research (October, 2012) investigated the relationship between metabolic syndrome and structured weightlifting; the findings indicate that resistance training (RT) may have a significant preventative effect. “Lifting weights may play a role in reducing the prevalence and risk of metabolic syndrome among U.S. adults,” said study authors Peter M. Magyari, PhD and James R. Churilla, PhD of the Brooks College of Health at the University of North Florida. The research team analyzed data from the 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), an ongoing study of health risk factors across diverse populations. Among other questions, respondents were asked whether or not they lifted weights, and researchers looked for correlations between their answers and their risk of metabolic syndrome. Of the 5,618 U.S. adults included in the survey, 8.8% confirmed that they regularly engage in weightlifting. The data also revealed that men, younger individuals, and Caucasians and African Americans were more likely to engage in structured RT, while women, individuals over the age of 50, and Mexican Americans were less likely to following a RT program. Within any demographic, individuals of higher socioeconomic status were more likely to lift weights.
The NHANES data demonstrated a considerably lower prevalence of metabolic syndrome among those individuals who reported lifting weights (24.6%) compared to those who did not (37.3%). After adjusting for demographic factors, RT was associated with a total 37% reduction in risk for developing metabolic syndrome. These findings clearly suggest that the incorporation of weight lifting or some other form of resistance exercise could be part of an effective strategy for reducing the risk of metabolic and cardiovascular diseases, both in individuals and across select populations. “Exercise professionals should strongly encourage the activity of lifting weights among adults of all ages to promote metabolic health,” Magyari and Churilla conclude. The authors recommend that these efforts should focus on the groups found to have a lower propensity towards RT, including women, older adults, Mexican Americans, and individuals of lower economic status. One caveat: the authors do acknowledge that a major limitation to their study is a lack of detailed information regarding the type of resistance exercise (manual labor vs. gym-based training) in which the survey respondents engaged.