A growing body of research points to strength training as more beneficial to the heart than aerobic exercise.
Cardio exercises, including running, walking, and cycling, have always been favored and prescribed for fortifying the heart. In recent years, researchers have been exploring the unique physiological effects that different fitness activities have on the heart, and all have their merits. Now they are finding that strength or resistance training, like weightlifting, may be even more effective in improving cardiovascular health.
A study presented by the American College of Cardiology in 2018 has suggested that, while any physical activity improves heart health, static activities like strength or resistance training reduce the risk of heart disease more than dynamic, aerobic activities. The researchers examined the health data of 4,086 American adults and analyzed their respective cardiovascular risk factors, such as obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes, as well as their self-reported static or dynamic activities.
The researchers found that either static or dynamic activity lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease by 30 to 70%. However, the risk was noticeably lower for those who engaged in static exercise, along with those who were aged 21 to 44. While strength training appeared to be better at preventing heart disease than cardio exercise, those who did both types of workouts fared better than the people who only focused on one.
Another study by Iowa State University, published around the same time in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, further confirmed that the benefits of strength or resistance training were independent of cardio or aerobic exercises. The researchers analyzed the data of 12,591 adults and found that weightlifting for as little as less than an hour a week can reduce the risk of heart attack or stroke by 40 to 70%, the risk of metabolic disease by 29%, and the risk of hypercholesterolemia by 32%. Even just two sets of bench presses in less than five minutes can be effective. Meanwhile, they saw no significant risk reduction for those who lifted weights for more than an hour four times a week.
Earlier this year, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) Cardiology reported on a small study on 32 obese, sedentary adults. The researchers found that both strength and aerobic exercises reduced the participants’ epicardial adipose tissue, a type of heart fat associated with cardiovascular disease. However, weightlifting effectively reduced the amount of pericardial adipose tissue, another type of heart fat, by 31% while aerobic exercise did not.
These results mean that people don’t necessarily have to meet the recommended physical guidelines for aerobic activities like running to strengthen their hearts. Not only is resistance training just as effective, it may be even better in combating cardiovascular disease. In fact, those who already have cardiovascular disease are the people who stand to benefit the most from regular exercise and physical rehabilitation. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that adults alternate between aerobic exercise and resistance training for a total of at least 150 minutes, spread out across each week.
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