Fitness Articles

Strengthen Your Heart with Strength Training

Pumping Iron Is Good for the Heart

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An Important Caveat
While strength training has amazing benefits, not everyone is cleared to lift weights. A July 2006 study found that in some people, heavy weight-lifting can lead to a splitting of the wall of aorta, which can be fatal, as it was in the case of actor John Ritter. Although it's fairly rare, for people with pre-existing mild to moderate aortic enlargement it is a serious issue.

In addition, people with the following heart conditions should not lift weights, according to the AHA:
  • Unstable coronary heart disease, such as those with angina
  • Congestive heart failure
  • Severe pulmonary hypertension
  • Severe, symptomatic aortic stenosis
  • Acute infection of the heart or tissues surrounding the heart
  • Uncontrolled high blood pressure (greater than 180/110 mmHg)
  • Aortic dissection
  • Marfan syndrome
As with any exercise program, it's important to talk to your doctor before you begin lifting weights to see if it's right for you.

Your Weight-Lifting Plan for a Healthy Heart
Once cleared to exercise, it doesn't take much time to reap the heart-healthy benefits of resistance-training! The AHA recommends that healthy adults perform 8-10 strength-training exercises (to work the whole body) twice a week. They advise picking a resistance level that allows you to fatigue your muscles within 8-12 repetitions, but beginners and older or frailer individuals should use much lighter weights, aiming for 10-15 repetitions per set. Following these guidelines shouldn't take more than 20 to 30 minutes a couple times per week.

The workout plans will help get you started, and you can meet with an experienced personal trainer at the gym to show you proper form if needed. All of the plans are designed to be done in circuit-training format where you quickly switch from an upper-body exercise to a lower-body move without resting between exercises; this will help elevate your heart rate so you burn calories and gain even more heart benefits!
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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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