We all know ‘cardio’ training refers to exercises such as running, cycling, or using an elliptical machine and is typically thought of as beneficial for your heart and lungs…deservedly so! There are countless cardiovascular benefits that have been well documented over the years. The benefits of cardio training on cardiovascular health are many, varied and well documented in scientific literature. What about lifting? There is emerging evidence regarding the cardio-protective effects of resistance training. In a growing number of studies, links are now being drawn between muscular strength (measured in upper body and lower body muscle groups) and cardiovascular disease. It has been suggested that resistance training, independent of cardio training / fitness, exerts a protective effect on the heart. Please note - the mechanisms underlying this protective effect are not fully understood.
In a recent study published in a 2021 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise (ACSM), rats were subjected to either aerobic-only training (1 hour/day for 5 days/week), resistance-only exercise or a combination of the two modalities (three days of running and two days of resistance training). Following 12 weeks of training, they were tested, and data was collected by performing an echocardiography (ultrasound of the heart) to determine the structural adaptations of the heart, as well as mechanical testing on isolated strips of cardiac tissue to identify possible mechanical adaptations. While hearts adapted differently depending on the exercise type, they ALL led to structural and mechanical adaptations of the heart. Interestingly, the animals who performed both aerobic and resistance exercise adapted with characteristics of both the aerobic-only and resistance-only training responses.
The ACSM recommends adults include both 150 minutes or more of moderate-to-vigorous cardio training and 2 days of resistance training/week. Based on the results of this recent study, mixing in 2 days/week (or more) of resistance training may provide important additional benefits to your heart and should not be ignored. There are many benefits for participating in cross-training programs (doing both resistance and cardio exercise). These include greater muscular endurance and strength, elevated lactate threshold, improved movement economy, increased insulin sensitivity, and improved blood cholesterol levels. Science is now starting to find we can also include positive structural and mechanical adaptations of the heart.
Whether your goal is to prevent or recover from cardiovascular disease or to improve your 5k time, the benefits of resistance training on your heart should not be overlooked. There has been a lot of effort convincing people to think about getting in their daily steps, but what about their daily reps? There's never a better time to start a 12-week lifting program.
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