Benefits of Strength Training for Heart Health

Written by; Leiden Dye (3rd year Bach App Sci -Exercise and Sports Science at RMIT)

When looking to improve heart health people often think that aerobic (cardiovascular) exercise is the best way to achieve this.  Aerobic exercise includes activities such as walking, running, cycling and swimming.  It has been found however that strength training can be just as beneficial as aerobic exercise for your heart health, if not more beneficial.

How does Strength Training benefit your Heart Health?

  1. Lowers Blood Pressure

Undertaking regular strength training sessions has been found to lead to a longer-lasting drop in blood pressure post exercise.  Strength training produces a different ‘pattern’ in blood vessel response during exercise compared with that of aerobic exercise.  

The immediate response on blood pressure post strength training is for blood pressure to drop below pre-exercise levels for about 2-3 hours after the exercise bout.  This phenomenon is referred to as postexercise hypotension.  These acute changes in blood pressure are thought to be the reason strength training has a longer-term benefit in reducing high blood pressure.

This doesn’t mean that you can completely cut cardio training out of your fitness routine as a combination of both training methods has been found to offer the most benefit to your heart health. 

2. Reduced risk of cardiovascular disease

A research study surveying 4000 participants in South America demonstrated that strength training had the greatest impact on lower risk factors for cardiovascular disease compared with aerobic training alone.

However, the research study highlighted that combining both strength training and cardiovascular exercise in your weekly routine produced a lower risk in cardiovascular disease compared with strength training alone.  So, having a balance in your training program is essential to increase your cardiovascular health.

Another positive of strength training for your heart is that even minimal amounts have been found to be very beneficial for your cardiovascular system. As little as 1 hour of strength training per week has been shown to lower your risk of developing heart disease by almost 50%!

3. Blood Glucose Control

Strength training is an important strategy for controlling blood sugar levels.  The immediate response of the body during strength training is to reduce the secretion of insulin.  Strength training seems to decrease the stimulus to use blood glucose as a longer-term benefit to glucose control.

With long term adherence to strength training this process is “fine-tuned” and the body continues to become more efficient and promote a healthy blood sugar level, leading to a decreased risk of type 2 diabetes.

4. Weight Loss

Regular strength training has also been shown to be a great way to prevent and combat obesity.  Obesity leads to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and many other related chronic conditions.

While undertaking a strength training session, your body is predominately using stores of carbohydrate (glycogen) stored with the muscle.  Very little body fat is being consumed as an energy source whilst lifting weights.

The benefit of strength training for combating obesity is related with the post exercise increase in metabolism which occurs as the body is recovering from weight training.  This increased metabolism increases the total energy consumption of your body at rest.  High energy consumption within your body leads to weight loss.

Strength training also promotes an increase in your total lean muscle tissue.  With this increased muscle, your metabolic rate at rest is higher.  A higher metabolic rate is important to combat obesity.

Strength Training has a positive impact on heart health

With all these benefits of strength training on heart health there are many people who still do not incorporate weight training into their weekly schedule.  The most beneficial form of strength training is free weights which are also beneficial in improving your function and movement.  

The best way to begin a strength training program is to ensure your program is tailored to your unique needs.  With consideration of your posture, injury status and medical background; a tailored strength training program will support your cardiovascular system and improve your heart health.

So, there is no excuse not to include strength training as part of your regular exercise routine!

Further Resources;

For more information on the benefit of free weights for strength training versus free weight – check our video;