Weight Lifting Reduces the Risk of Developing Metabolic Syndrome

by Dr Sam Girgis on October 25, 2012

The metabolic syndrome is a group of cardiovascular disease risk factors that when combined together significantly increase the likelihood of developing heart disease or stroke.  These risk factors include poor blood glucose control or diabetes, elevated triglyceride level, low high density lipoprotein cholesterol, obesity or overweight, and high blood pressure.  In order to meet the definition of metabolic syndrome, three of the five risk factors need to be present.  As a result of the growing obesity and type 2 diabetes epidemics, the prevalence of metabolic syndrome has also increased.  Weight loss, control of blood pressure and diabetes, and improving lipid parameters can reverse the metabolic syndrome.  We have previously discussed the finding that brisk walking decreases the risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

Recently, research conducted by Dr. Peter M. Magyari and Dr. James R. Churilla from the Brooks College of Health University of North Florida, has shown that resistance exercises such as weight lifting can reduce the risk of developing metabolic syndrome.  The results of their study were published online ahead of print in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.  The researchers conducted a cross-sectional study using 5,618 participants enrolled in the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey during the years 1999 to 2004.  The researchers found that 11.2% of men reported engaging in weight lifting, while 6.3% of women reported this type of activity.  The prevalence of metabolic syndrome was found to be significantly lower for those who engaged in weight lifting (24%) as compared to those who did not engage in weight lifting (37%).  It was also found that weight lifting was associated with a 37% reduction in the odds of developing metabolic syndrome.

The authors wrote, “These data suggest that U.S. men and women who report [lifting weights] have a significantly lower prevalence of [metabolic syndrome] than those not reporting [lifting weights]… These findings substantiate those of previous studies of muscular strength and mass, which inferred that [lifting weights] may play a role in reducing the incidence of [metabolic syndrome] among U.S. adults”.

The authors also wrote, “This is in line with the previously reported associations attributed to increases in either muscular strength or muscle mass and the reduced risk and prevalence of [metabolic syndrome].

The authors concluded, “This information provides support to justify funding of prospective studies designed to better understand the relationship between [metabolic syndrome] and [lifting weights]. This study also highlights the importance of promoting the adoption of [resistance exercises] and [lifting weights] among subgroups of U.S. adults who under use this valuable health promoting activity such as women, older adults, Mexican Americans, and those of lower [socioeconomic status]”.

This study adds to the growing body of evidence that physical activity and regular exercise is beneficial to health.  In particular, weight lifting was found to decrease the risk of developing the metabolic syndrome.  We have previously discussed the finding that building muscle mass decreases the risk of type 2 diabetes through decreased insulin resistance.  The beneficial effects of weight lifting appear to also be related to increased muscle mass and strength, and possibly through increasing insulin sensitivity.  Regardless of the mechanism and the role of muscle mass and strength, we can safely say that engaging in some type of resistance exercise such as weight lifting is a good idea for its health benefits.  Future studies should look at the degree of increase in muscle mass and strength needed to decrease the risk of metabolic syndrome.  In addition, future studies should evaluate whether weight lifting activities can reverse pre-existing metabolic syndrome.



Peter M. Magyari and James R. Churilla “Association Between Lifting Weights and Metabolic Syndrome Among U.S. Adults: 1999-2004 National Health and Nutrition Examination SurveyJournal of Strength and Conditioning Research vol. 26 no. 11 p. 3113 – 3117.

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