Fitness Articles

Strengthen Your Heart with Strength Training

Pumping Iron Is Good for the Heart

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When you're told that exercise improves your heart health, you probably think of cardio exercise, right? After all, "cardio" is short for "cardiovascular" exercise, named as such because it utilizes the cardiorespiratory system, which consists of your heart, lungs and blood vessels, which work together to supply oxygen and nutrients to all of your vital organs. But did you know that heart-pumping cardio isn't the only exercise that helps to keep your heart healthy? That's right, pumping iron in the gym can help your most important muscle in the body—your heart—pump better, too!

The latest research shows that strength training doesn't just build strong muscles and bones; it offers big benefits for your ticker, too. That's why the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends it as a tool in maintaining heart health, preventing heart disease, and even helping those with heart disease to improve their condition.

In 2000, the AHA's Committee on Exercise, Rehabilitation, and Prevention, Council on Clinical Cardiology published research in the journal Circulation that concluded that when appropriately prescribed and supervised, resistance training has favorable effects on muscular strength and endurance, cardiovascular function, metabolism, coronary risk factors and psychosocial well-being—all of which are factors that affect heart health. Additionally, researchers found that resistance training was beneficial in the prevention and management of other chronic conditions, such as low-back pain, osteoporosis, obesity and weight control, diabetes, and improved physical function in frail and elderly persons. The paper recommended that all healthy individuals should strength train two to three times a week for overall health and to reduce their risk of chronic disease, including heart disease and its related risk factors.

Later in a 2007 edition of Circulation, researchers expanded their recommendation further, concluding that proper resistance training is beneficial for people suffering from heart disease, too. Besides strengthening the heart, scientists found that strength training helps people with heart disease to develop bodily strength, improve their endurance and generally have more independence and a higher quality of life.

Why exactly is strength training so beneficial? Well, it's because when you lift weights at a moderate intensity where you get your heart rate up and keep it up, strength training can simultaneously engage both the muscular system and the cardiovascular system. Basically, when you make your muscles stronger, you make your body stronger, which helps everything.

Other benefits of weight training include:
  • Increased muscle strength
  • Increased bone density
  • Increased lean muscle mass
  • Increased insulin sensitivity
  • Increased endurance (although not as much as aerobic exercise) Continued ›
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About The Author

Jennipher Walters Jennipher Walters
Jenn is the CEO and co-founder of the healthy living websites FitBottomeGirls.com, FitBottomedMamas.com and FitBottomedEats.com. A certified personal trainer, health coach and group exercise instructor, she also holds an MA in health journalism and is the author of The Fit Bottomed Girls Anti-Diet book (Random House, 2014).

See all of Jenn's articles.

Member Comments

  • Thank you for such an informative article, however, I think for safety sake the portion of this article marked "An Important Caveat" should have been placed WAY at the beginning of the article in the event that someone glances at the article but doesn't finish reading it all the way through. That's a very important caveat. It should be stated up front and then go on with the article. Seriously. - 5/24/2012 12:55:34 PM
  • Thank you for such an informative article, however, I think for safety sake the portion of this article marked "An Important Caveat" should have been placed WAY at the beginning of the article in the event that someone glances at the article but doesn't finish reading it all the way through. That's a very important caveat. It should be stated up front and then go on with the article. Seriously. - 5/24/2012 12:55:29 PM
  • AZURE-SKY
    I didn't see much in the way of recommendations on the weights to start out with. I had lymph nodes removed due to breast cancer 13 years ago. My doctor advised using lower weights (starting out with lifting 5-lb dumbells) & doing more reps to avoid the risk of lymphedema - swelling of the arm because the lymphatic fluid can't drain. She said when I became stronger, to increase the weight about 2 lbs at a time.

    I've been doing upper body weight machines for a while, and use 10-15 lbs on the bicep curls, 4-5 sets of 10; 30 lbs on the tricep machines, also 4-5 sets of 10; chest press - 30 lbs - 4 sets of 10 lbs; low row (for the back) 50 lbs - 4 sets of 10. I don't know why I can't get past 10 lbs on the bicep curls but have more strength in the other muscles, but that works for me. When I try higher weight on the chest press, the mucles in the breast where I had surgery get sore, even after all this time. I'm 59 years old. - 5/26/2011 1:43:01 PM
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