What a lift: Heart Association promotes simple weight training to improve your circulation, help your heart and build your bones -- as well as make you stronger

THE AMERICAN HEART Association has broadened its exercise recommendations to include weight training to improve cardiovascular health and well-being. This includes recommending weight lifting for people middle-age and older

The AHA Science Advisory, published in the Feb. 22 issue of the journal Circulation, emphasizes that weight training or resistance exercise may be beneficial for those 35 and older -- including those with heart disease. The recommendation highlighted three major advantages of this form of exercise:

Improved heart health. Recent studies reviewed by the heart association have shown that weight training reduces the heart rate and blood pressure responses to manual labor. Simply said, stronger muscles can decrease the demands on the heart during daily activities like carrying groceries or lifting heavy objects.

Pumping iron can also favorably modify several risk factors associated with heart disease. For example, it can improve glucose metabolism, or the body's ability to handle sugars. In addition, weight training seems to be as effective as aerobic exercise in reducing blood pressure and decreasing the atherogenic, or so-called bad, form of cholesterol (LDL).

Increased caloric expenditure. Between ages 20 and 70, people lose about 30 percent of their lean body mass, or muscle tissue. For many individuals, this loss is camouflaged because they're simultaneously gaining body fat.

Although aerobic exercise serves as a valuable calorie burner, it has little or no effect on maintaining lean body mass. Resistance training assists the body in burning even more calories throughout the day by maintaining or increasing lean body mass.

The heart association now recommends weight training as a key component in successful weight-reduction programs.

Enhanced muscular strength. Compared with aerobic exercise, resistance training offers far greater gains in muscle strength and endurance. This is important to promote independent living and prevent falls in older people.

Perhaps the most striking example is a conditioning study of 10 elderly men and women who ranged in age from 87 to 96. The subjects participated in an 8-week resistance training program. Their average muscle strength increased by nearly 200 percent.

BARRY FRANKLIN, PhD, is director of the cardiac rehabilitation program at William Beaumont Hospital. Write to him at: Barry Franklin, c/o Detroit Free Press, P.O. Box 828, Detroit 48231.