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December 2, 2017

By S. Callahan, Contributing Columnist

Among the many reasons people give for not engaging in
weightlifting is the fear, among many, that lifting weight
can bring on a heart attack.  

Weightlifting is not a common cause of heart attacks. Only
about 3 to 4 cases occur for every 100,000 people in the
US, according to a 2011 study from Baylor College of

But that doesn't mean there is no connection between
weighting and heart attack. There is in fact a proven
connection between weightlifting and heart attacks called
"aortic dissection".  

Lifting heavy weights can literally rip open your arteries.
How often do people die from weightlifting related heart
attacks? Just how dangerous is lifting at your maximum

Aortic Dissection Is a Tearing of Your Artery

With aortic dissection, first the inner layer of the aorta
tears, then blood rushes in between the next layers,
causing a bulge. If the blood escapes outside the aorta
into your body cavity, death is almost certain.

If you can be treated immediately, doctors may be able to
shore up the artery.

The aorta is a large long blood vessel and aortic dissection
is classified as either A or B, Depending on where on the
aorta the tear occurs. Type A aortic dissection describes
tears near where the aorta exits your heart. Type B aortic
dissections occur when the tear happens in the part of the
aorta nearer the stomach.

Physical or emotional stress often precedes an aortic tear,
according to a 2007 study from Yale University School of
Medicine.  The team that completed this study of 110
patients who had survived aortic dissections were also the
first to make the connection between weightlifting and an
increased risk of aortic dissection in 2003.

Weightlifting While Holding Your Breath Can Cause Aortic

If you hold your breath while lifting, you will dramatically
increase your blood pressure. In fact, the American Heart
Association warns that holding your breath can raise blood
pressure and lead to muscle cramps.

Why is holding your breath so dangerous? Why does it
cause high blood pressure? Holding your breath diverts
oxygen from the rest of your body to your brain. In an
atmosphere of oxygen deprivation, your kidneys become
less efficient at disposing of salt, leading to an immediate
rise in blood pressure, according to a theory proposed by
Dr. David Anderson of the National Institute on Aging.

Most people attempting to lift heavy weights hold their
breaths leading up to the exertion phase.

So, at the exact moment when your arteries and heart
require more oxygen, weightlifters deny their bodies this
oxygen.  This double stress is what tears the artery.

You Are Most Likely to Have an Aortic Dissection In the

For reasons not entirely understood, most aortic
dissections occur in the early morning hours between 6 AM
and noon, according to a 2005 study led by Dr. L. Michael
Prisant of the Medical College of Georgia.

Symptoms of Aortic Dissection

Let's not sugar coat this. An aortic dissection is a nice,
technical way of saying you just ripped your blood vessel
apart. You would expect it to hurt and it does.

Symptoms include:

  • a sudden chest pain, especially a burning, searing
    chest pain, naturally enough, since you would have
    just ripped something

  • shortness of breath

  • inability to speak or difficulty speaking, paralysis on
    one side of  the face, similar to what occurs with a

  • weaker pulse in one arm

Most People Who Tear Their Arteries Already Have High
Blood Pressure

Most people who suffer from aortic dissection already have
high blood pressure, with readings above the 120/80
mmHG the American Heart Association now considers ideal.
120 is the systolic number and 80 is the diastolic number.

However, only 64% of people who suffer aortic dissection
have systolic blood pressure readings above 150 mmHg.

What this could mean is that the 150 mmHg is far too high
a blood pressure for anyone considering weightlifting.

Before You Start Weightlifting Get Your Blood Pressure
Under Control

A blood pressure reading of 120/80 is now considered the
line that separates normal from "elevated" blood pressure.

You have to view weight training as an exercise that is
both a way to condition your muscles but that is also an
acute, severe challenge to your arterial system.

Likewise, you should not start heavy weightlifting or
continue heavy weightlifting if you are going through
emotional distress.

Exercise can in fact relieve stress. But it has to be the right
kind of exercise. The type of exercise to relieve stress
should be gradual, low-impact  and sustained. Walking,
bicycling, yoga and swimming are all good choices if you
just want to blow off some steam. All of these exercises
will allow you to continue to breathe deeply as you
exercise, and thus avoid sending your kidneys into salt

If You Still Are Determined to Hit the Heavy Weights,
Practice Deep Breathing

The cascade of deadly events that lead to an aortic tear
depend on lack of oxygen.  You should make deep
breathing a part of your life not only when you are
exercising. But if you do intend to weight train, you simply
have to learn how to use your breath properly.

Practice deep breathing fro at least 2 minutes prior to
lifting.  Slow, steady breaths to the slow count of 4
breathing in and slow release to the count of 4 exhaling.

When you breathe in, you should try to send the breath to
the deepest part of your lung, expanding your diaphragm.

Never weight lift while angry. Stop. Anger diverts oxygen
from your arteries and muscles.


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Lifting heavy weights can literally rip open
your arteries.
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