When most people think of exercise to promote heart health, aerobic activities such as running, biking or swimming come to mind. While there’s no question that aerobic exercise plays an important role in cardiovascular fitness, resistance exercise like weight training are also beneficial to heart health.
How Weight Training Helps Your Heart
In addition to general benefits like increasing muscle strength and bone density, moderate-intensity weight training has been shown in heart health studies to:
- Lower blood pressure. While blood pressure increases during the act of weightlifting, a regular weight training regimen can ultimately lower your resting blood pressure.
- Increase muscle mass and fat-burning capability. Sustaining lean muscle requires energy, which your body generates by burning fat. By building muscle, resistance exercise can help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Lower cholesterol and triglyceride levels. These fatty substances can cause heart attacks and strokes by blocking blood vessels. Weight training not only decreases these levels, it may also increase HDL, the “good” cholesterol that helps protect your heart.
- Improve sleep. What does sleep have to do with heart health? Studies have shown that sleep deprivation causes inflammation that can damage cells in the cardiovascular system. Sleepless nights also decrease insulin sensitivity and fat metabolism. Lack of sleep also increases dangerous “visceral fat,” which is stored in the abdominal cavity and accumulates in the arteries. Strength workouts around 7 p.m. appear to have the most pronounced positive effects on sleep.
How to Get Started Weight Lifting
If you decide to add resistance exercise to your fitness plan, it’s a good idea to talk with your doctor first. Having heart disease does not necessarily mean that you should not lift weights, but it is crucial that you have guidance from your healthcare provider before you start a program.
In general, here are some good weight training tips to follow:
- Start with lighter weights and fewer repetitions.
- Lift two days a week initially, with recovery days in between.
- Lift at moderate to slow speed and in a controlled, rhythmic manner.
- Inhale and exhale normally throughout the motion.
- Lift through a full range of motion.
- Alternate between upper body and lower body exercises.
- Gradually increase weight, number of repetitions in a set and total number of sets per session.
- Listen to your body and don’t lift if you experience anything beyond mild muscle soreness or stiffness.
The combination of aerobic training and resistance exercise, along with a healthy diet, can help you maximize your overall fitness and improve your heart health.