The Cooper Institute

Founded in 1970 by the "Father of Aerobics"
Kenneth H. Cooper MD, MPH


Resistance training for African-American women: Is it worth the extra time?

Written by
Sue Beckham, PhD
Posted in
Move more

Monday, Mar 19, 2012

When most people decide to start an exercise program to improve their health and lower their risk of cardiovascular disease the first activity that comes to mind is walking.  But is walking alone the best choice?  The American College of Sports Medicine (6) recommends 2 days per week of resistance training for all muscle groups.  But if you’re busy, is finding time for resistance training in your busy schedule really worth the extra effort?  A recent study (4) examined the health benefits of a walking vs. a walking plus resistance training program in inactive, middle-aged African-American women.  This study looked at whether adding resistance training to a walking program would lead to further improvements in risk factors for cardiovascular disease and diabetes in African-American women.  According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), four out of five African-American women are overweight or obese (2) which increases their risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.  Studies also suggest that African-American women are less active than Caucasian or Native American women (1,3,5).

Dr. Hornbuckle and his colleagues recruited 44 African-American women to participate in their study.  Before the training program began, they measured body composition, blood pressure, HDL (good) cholesterol, triglycerides (fats), glucose and hemoglobin A1c.  Hemoglobin A1c forms in the blood when glucose (sugar) sticks to red blood cells.  When glucose levels are high, more glucose sticks to hemoglobin.  Since red blood cells circulate for about 3 months, Hemoglobin A1c  levels provide a good picture of average blood glucose levels over a 3 month period.  Subjects also wore a pedometer to track their average number of steps before they started exercising to get a baseline activity level.  Researchers measured the subject’s calorie intake and muscular strength, too.

The women were randomly assigned to a walking only or a walking plus resistance training group.  Both groups were asked to walk 10,000 steps per day as measured by their step counter.  The walking plus resistance training group also performed resistance training 2 days per week.  They performed 3 sets of 8-12 repetitions of 10 exercises for the upper, lower body and core with a minute of rest between sets.  Both groups were asked not to change their diet during the 12 week training program.  After 12 weeks of training, subjects were retested for the same variables measured initially.

Neither group made the goal of 10,000 steps per day although both groups significantly increased their number of steps per day by similar amounts.  The walking only group did not have any significant changes in body fat, waist or hip circumference.  The walking plus resistance training group showed small but significant decreases in waist and hip circumference and body fat after 12 weeks.  The walking plus weight training group increased their upper and lower body strength.  In addition, blood glucose and Hemoglobin A1c  levels decreased significantly in the walking plus weight training group.

In Summary: Keep up your walking or other cardio activity, which can increase your aerobic capacity and lower your risk of cardiovascular disease.  However, this study suggests that adding a resistance training program to your cardio workouts 2 days per week can lead to additional improvements in waist circumference and body fat.  In addition, resistance training can lower blood glucose, which would be expected to reduce your risk of developing diabetes.

One of the challenges of getting fit is finding activities that you enjoy and will participate in on a regular basis.  Check with your doctor before starting a resistance training program especially if your blood pressure is not controlled or you have a heart condition.  Get out of your comfort zone and try some new activities.  Resistance training is more than just going to the gym and lifting weights.  Consider joining a group exercise class that focuses on resistance training.  Better yet invite a friend to join you.  Another option is calisthenic types of exercise you can do at home.  For creative and fun ways to incorporate resistance training into your workouts using body weight exercises or small apparatus like bands, balls and body weight exercises, check out our Boot Camp/Circuit Leadership and Balls, Bands & More courses.  What’s your favorite way to incorporate resistance training into your workouts?  Let us know on facebook.

1.    Ainsworth, B.E., Irwin, M.L., Addy, C.L. et al. (1999). Moderate physical activity patterns of minority women: the Cross-Cultural Activity Participation Study. Journal of Women’s Health & Gender-Based Medicine, 8(6), 805-13. 2.    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2010). Health United States, 2009. Table 72. 3.    Crespo, C.J., Smit, E., Anderson, R.E. et al. (2000). Race/ethnicity, social class and their relation to physical inactivity during leisure time: results from the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 1988-1994. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 18(1), 46-53. 4.    Hornbuckle, L.M., Liu, P., Ilich, J.Z. et al. (2012). Effects of resistance training and walking on cardiovascular disease risk in African-American women. Medicine and Science in Exercise and Sports, 44(3), 525-533. 5.    Hornbuckle, L.M., Bassett, D.R. & Thompson, D.L. (2005). Pedometer-determined walking and body composition variables in African-American women. Medicine and Science in Exercise and Sports, 37(6), 1069-74. 6.    Thompson, W.R., Gordon, N.F., Pescatello, L.S., editors. (2010). ACSM’s Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. 8th ed. Baltimore, MD: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 65-168.