The Winning Combination: How Mixing Cardio and Strength Training Reduces Heart Disease Risks

Cathe Friedrich uses cardio & strength training to stay fit


The number one cause of death in Western countries? It’s still cardiovascular disease, health conditions that encompass coronary artery disease and stroke. According to the American Heart Association based on statistics for 2021, coronary artery disease accounted for 40% of deaths in the United States followed by stroke at almost 18%. To turn back the hands of time and prevent cardiovascular disease, health officials recommend exercise. But what type?

Want to keep your heart in tip-top shape and lower your risk of heart attack and stroke? You might think hitting the pavement or hopping on a bike is the only way to go. But a groundbreaking study from Iowa State University dispels this myth.

Cardio has long been the golden child when it comes to heart health. But this new research? It’s challenging that conventional wisdom. The key, they suggest, is finding the perfect balance between cardio and strength training.

The Power of Combination: Aerobic Meets Resistance

For the study, researchers recruited 406 overweight or obese subjects between the ages of 35 and 70. The participants also had high blood pressure. The researchers divided subjects into four groups: no exercise, aerobics-only, resistance-only, and a combination of both. The exercise groups participated in supervised one-hour sessions three times per week over the course of the yearlong study.

The results? Doing a combination of equal amounts of aerobic and resistance exercise lowered the risk of cardiovascular disease as much as doing only aerobics. Good news if you prefer strength training over cardio!

Measuring the Impact: A Closer Look at the Data

How did the researchers reach this conclusion? They measured the participants’ systolic blood pressure, LDL cholesterol, fasting glucose, and body fat percentage, all markers related to cardiovascular risk. Based on the results, they found that the active groups (aerobic, resistance, or combo) had better cardiovascular risk scores than those who didn’t exercise. No surprise here, right?

All the groups who exercised lost body fat and both the aerobic and combo aerobic-resistance training groups improved their cardiovascular fitness. It should come as no surprise that the groups who resistance trained only and did combo aerobic and resistance training became stronger while the aerobic only group didn’t. So, what does this tell us?

It’s All about Balance

Forget the days of mindlessly running or working with weights every day. This research suggests that you’ll get the most benefits by combining the pulsating rhythms of aerobic activity with the sculpting power of resistance training. The two work together to lower your risk of cardiovascular disease while building muscle and strength. It’s not either-or, it’s both! You can forge strong, beautiful muscles and enjoy aerobic workouts, all while boosting the health of your heart. It’s an integrated approach to training and one that covers all the bases – health, strength, and variety.

The Future of Fitness: Optimizing the Exercise “Dose”

What researchers still don’t know is the ideal “dose” of each exercise type. An upcoming study funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute plans to look at this issue by conducting further research. What we know for now is that a balanced approach that includes both aerobic and resistance training is a promising path to better heart health.

Although this study looked at overweight and obese individuals with high blood pressure, there’s no reason it shouldn’t apply to healthy individuals too. So how should you approach combining resistance training and aerobic exercise?

The best strategy is to strike a balance that aligns with your goals and keeps you engaged for the long haul. Why not alternate cardio and strength training days? This is a smart practice because it allows your body to recover from one type of exercise while tackling another.

For example, you could do cardio on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and strength training on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, with Sunday as a rest day or for active recovery like yoga or a leisurely walk. Don’t underestimate the power of rest days for muscle recovery and for helping you stay motivated. You can’t be “go, go, go” all the time.

You can also combine cardio and resistance exercises into a single workout by tapping into the benefits of circuit training or high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This approach is popular with time-strapped people who need to fit cardio and resistance training into a single session.

For example, do a series of exercises with minimal rest in between, flipping back and forth between cardio bursts and strength moves. For example, launch into a circuit of jumping jacks, squats, mountain climbers, push-ups, and lunges and repeat for several rounds. It’s a time-efficient way to elevate your heart rate, boost stamina and endurance, and boost your metabolism for hours afterward.

However you do it, the key is to find a mix that challenges you, keeps you consistent, and, most importantly, is enjoyable, so you’ll stick with it for the long haul.


Add variety to your fitness routine to stay mentally stimulated and avoid overtraining by doing the same type of exercise over and over, but also know that it could be key to a healthy heart. Make both aerobic and resistance training part of your “get healthy” and “stay fit” routine. By including both, you’ll get a well-rounded workout that will take your fitness to the next level.


  • New research finds half-cardio, half-strength training reduces cardiovascular disease risks • News Service Iowa State University. Iastate.edu. Published 2024. Accessed May 28, 2024. https://www.news.iastate.edu/news/2024/01/17/cardio-strength
  • Lee DC, Brellenthin AG, Lanningham-Foster LM, Kohut ML, Li Y. Aerobic, resistance, or combined exercise training and cardiovascular risk profile in overweight or obese adults: the CardioRACE trial. European heart journal. Published online January 17, 2024. doi:https://doi.org/10.1093/eurheartj/ehad827.
  • “Exercise Prescription and Primary Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease ….” 15 Jun. 2010, https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/full/10.1161/circulationaha.109.903377.
  • “Comparative effectiveness of aerobic, resistance, and combined … – PLOS.” 07 Jan. 2019, https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0210292.
  • Pinckard K, Baskin KK, Stanford KI. Effects of Exercise to Improve Cardiovascular Health. Front Cardiovasc Med. 2019 Jun 4;6:69. doi: 10.3389/fcvm.2019.00069. PMID: 31214598; PMCID: PMC6557987.”Strength and Resistance Training Exercise | American Heart Association.” https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/fitness/fitness-basics/strength-and-resistance-training-exercise.
  • “2024 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update Fact Sheet.” 24 Jan. 2024, https://www.heart.org/-/media/PHD-Files-2/Science-News/2/2024-Heart-and-Stroke-Stat-Update/2024-Statistics-At-A-Glance-final_2024.pdf.

Related Articles By Cathe:

Strength Training Vs. Cardio: What Happens When You Do Cardio and Don’t Strength Train?

5 Tips for Working with Heavy Weights

Related Cathe Friedrich Workout DVDs:

All Strength/Toning DVDs
Total Body Workouts
Lower Body Workouts
Upper Body Workouts
HiiT and Interval DVDs
Low Impact Cardio DVDs
Beginner Workout DVDs
Intermediate Workouts
Fit Tower DVDs
Boot Camp DVDs
Circuit DVDs
Kickbox DVDs
Step DVDs
Cycle Workout DVDs

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