Conventional wisdom has been that the best exercise to improve heart health and maintain a healthy cardiovascular system and thereby reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack, is aerobic or so-called “cardio workouts.”
Weight lifting has traditionally been considered an “anaerobic exercise,” and as such was not thought to be the best choice for heart health. However, that is no longer the thinking. Many medical professionals and personal trainers recognize the benefits weightlifting has on the heart and lungs, especially when combined with more traditional cardio workouts.
While up until recently cardiologists actually discouraged their patients from weight training and weightlifting, that view is now changing. The American Heart Association published recent evidence that shows the benefits to the heart of working out with weights. The reversal of opinion is not only because physiologists now recognize that there is indeed an aerobic component to weightlifting exercises, but because of the overall improvement in condition and body changes that weightlifting and building muscle create. It has been found that increasing muscle mass and strength actually increase resting metabolism, and lowers resting blood pressure – both of which are good for cardiovascular health.
Can a Heart Patient Work Out With Weights?
There was a time, when a person with a known heart condition, or who has suffered a previous heart attack, shied away from weightlifting for fear of having another. Now we know better. For the heart patient weightlifting and resistance training can be very important to preventing future heart attacks or other cardiac episodes.
It is all about being in better condition and being stronger. It’s not brain surgery but it is basic heart science. If you have a weak heart even simple tasks like walking up a flight of stairs, lifting groceries, even walking — can put a strain on it.
If you are stronger from building lean muscle mass, these tasks become that much simpler and your heart doesn’t have to work so hard. Studies have also shown that when people lifting weight were monitored for cardiac output, the heart pumped stronger and faster. Do not forget, your heart is basically a muscle, and like any muscle, it responds to weight lifting by building stronger tissue – in this case the walls in the ventricle, the pumping part of the heart. Strong ventricles mean the heart can pump more efficiently, and effectively lowers resting heart rate, which can lower blood pressure, one of the main contributing factors to heart attack and stroke.
Other Cardiovascular Benefits of Weightlifting
And of course gaining a healthy heart is not the only benefit of weightlifting. Most people who have heart problems are also overweight or struggling with some of the other problems of obesity like diabetes. Weightlifting is a great way to lose weight and keep it off by raising your metabolism and making your body burn calories more efficiently. Minute for minute, anaerobic exercises like weightlifting will not burn as much as an aerobic exercise like biking or jogging. In other words, 15 minutes on a stationary bike initially burns far more calories than 15 minutes of weightlifting. However, it’s been found that up to two hours after a 15 minute weightlifting workout, the body continues to burn calories as the muscles remain in an agitated state. That does not happen from most aerobic exercises.
The American Heart Association now recommends a 30 minute aerobic workout 6 times a week, and adding a weightlifting session of at least 15 minutes 3 times a week.