Heart disease casts a foreboding shadow over our collective health This silent killer steals far too many lives, cutting short the potential of over 600,000 Americans each year. We’ve made progress – statins to lower cholesterol, stents to open clogged arteries, and bypass surgery to route blood past blockages. Yet cardiovascular disease is still the leading cause of death, imprinted into one of every three death certificates inked.
The good news is research shows exercise may lower the risk of this common killer, thereby prolonging life and quality of life. But there’s more than one way to get a workout. Researchers at Iowa State University wanted to explore strength training vs. aerobic exercise for heart health and their effects on cardiovascular health. Is one better than the other or is it best to do both for heart health?
How the Study Was Set Up
The study followed over four hundred middle-aged and older adults for a year to see the effects of different exercise routines. The participants, between the ages of 35 and 70, were randomly assigned to one of three exercise groups – aerobic training only, strength training only, or a combined program. Each group took part in a tailored workout plan. Another group, serving as a control group, did no exercise.
The researchers carefully designed the study methodology to ensure the results would be reliable and applicable to real-world contexts. By tracking such a large sample size over an extended period, they hoped to get a clearer picture of the long-term impacts of these common exercise regimens. Also, they wanted to know the impact of these exercise routines on risk factors for cardiovascular disease and body composition.
What Impact Did Each Type of Exercise Have on Body Composition?
The good news is all exercise groups lost body fat and reduced their body fat percentage, whether they did aerobic exercise only, strength training only, or a combination. So, both forms of exercise help with the loss of body fat.
Effects of Each Type of Exercise on Cardiovascular Risk Factors
At the start, after 6 months, and at the end of the 1-year study, the researchers measured four cardiovascular markers for each person: blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar, and, as previously mentioned, percentage of body fat. If those levels are too high, you’re more likely to have heart problems later.
“Most studies only look at one factor, but your risk goes up more if you have multiple factors that are too high,” explains Dr. Lee who led the study. “So, we used a special scoring system to measure changes in all 4 risk factors together.”
The main findings:
All three exercise groups lost a significant amount of body fat compared to the no-exercise group. Research shows that just a 1% drop in body fat can lower your risk for high blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes by 3-8%.
But when looking at changes in all four heart disease risk factors, the aerobic and combined exercise groups came out on top with lower overall risk scores. The results were the same for adults, both young and old.
So, adding aerobic exercise, with or without resistance training, seems to be the best way to reduce multiple heart disease risk factors.
Differences Between the Exercise Groups
Over the year-long study, the folks doing just aerobic exercise kept getting better at the VO2max treadmill test. That test shows your maximum oxygen intake during hard running – so it measures your aerobic fitness. Meanwhile, the resistance-only group didn’t improve much on that test.
On the other side, the resistance group kept increasing how much they could bench press and leg press – getting stronger over time. But the aerobic-only people didn’t get stronger in those strength tests.
But there’s more. combo exercise group showed gains in both aerobic fitness and muscular strength! By doing both types of exercise, they boosted their cardio health and their strength over the 12 months. So, combined training gives you additional health and fitness benefits.
A clear winner here was doing both aerobics and strength training, rather than choosing between the two. The study highlights the time-efficiency of a combined aerobic and resistance exercise approach, making it a practical choice for you if you have limited time.
Doing a mix of cardio and strength training together can be an efficient use of time if your schedule is packed. Finding a full hour to devote solely to aerobics or lifting weights may be challenging. But this study shows you can get great benefits by combining them – building cardiovascular fitness and strength at the same time.
So, if you’re feeling crunched for time but still want to boost your health, give the aerobic/resistance combo a try. You can knock out two goals with one routine and free up more of your schedule for other things beyond exercise. For busy people who still want to improve their fitness, this approach makes sense. It’s an effective way to enhance your health without overhauling your lifestyle.
Exercise – is your best friend and side kick if you want to lower your risk of heart disease. And combining aerobic workouts with resistance training seems to give you the most bang for your buck.
Both the combo group and the aerobic-only folks saw bigger improvements in those key markers that raise your chances of a heart attack or stroke down the road. So, if you’ve been sticking to just cardio or just lifting weights, 2024 is the year to mix it up! Blend strength moves into your usual sweat sessions. Or if you live for the iron, throw in squat jumps or burpees too.
Your heart will thank you for the variety! And you’ll bust through any workout plateaus and see better results across the board after a while. Plus, switching things up keeps exercise from becoming dull. You’re less likely to lose motivation if you’re not doing the same routine day after day.
The point is your heart health is too important to neglect. But there’s more than one way to show it love! Find what works for you and keeps you moving. Just make sure your program checks both the cardio and strength training boxes. Do that, and you’ll be giving yourself the best chance to stay vigorous and healthy for years to come.
- Duck-chul Lee et al. Aerobic, resistance, or combined exercise training and cardiovascular risk profile in overweight or obese adults: the CardioRACE trial. European Heart Journal, 2024 DOI: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehad827.
- Iowa State University. “New research finds half-cardio, half-strength training reduces cardiovascular disease risks.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 17 January 2024. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2024/01/240117143646.htm>.