Is Lifting Weights Good for Your Heart?
Published by Dr. Venn-Watson
Dr. Eric Venn-Watson’s Highlights
The treadmill and elliptical are everyone’s gym go-to. When it’s time to lose a few pounds, these machines are arguably the most popular. This explains why it’s so hard to find an available treadmill in your gym in January when the influx of new members appears with resolutions fresh in their minds.
Cardiovascular exercise is important, but it is not the only way to improve your heart health. In fact, a surprising new study suggests that weight training (and other forms of resistance training) are just as good for your heart. The best news? It requires a lot less effort than you think.
Keeping your heart healthy requires a multifaceted approach that includes diet, lifestyle habits, and exercise. We’ll also give you the crib sheet in another way to support your heart health (no weights required).
What Keeps Your Heart Healthy?
Keeping your heart healthy and decreasing your risk of cardiovascular disease shouldn't be difficult or complicated. Eating a heart-healthy diet, avoiding certain lifestyle habits, and getting the right kind (and amount) of exercise will pay dividends in your heart’s health account.
A diet rich in heart-healthy whole grains, fiber, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables is essential in keeping your arteries healthy. Diets high in sodium can cause you to retain water, making it harder for your heart to pump blood through your veins. This leads to high blood pressure, which can increase your risk of heart disease.
Eating too much trans fat (fat that has been synthetically created to stay stable and solid at room temperature) can cause your “bad” LDL cholesterol to rise. When you have high LDL cholesterol, you are at an increased risk of developing plaque inside your arteries, which can increase your risk of coronary artery disease.
Coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease and is the leading cause of death in the United States.
Your body burns carbohydrates for fuel. Essentially everything you eat gets broken down into molecules of amino acids (protein), fatty acids (fats), and glucose (carbohydrates).
Consuming foods with a lot of added sugar can cause your blood sugar levels to surge. The pancreas begins to pump out more insulin to move the glucose to your cells, where energy is needed. If the cells don’t need that energy right away, the glucose gets shuttled to the liver and muscles, where it is stored as glycogen.
Glycogen can later be converted to glucose when it is needed. But what if the liver and muscles are already well-supplied with glucose? Well, then the added glucose gets stored in adipose tissue or fat.
Consuming excess calories can be a risk factor for developing insulin resistance, a precursor of type 2 diabetes. Type 2 diabetes is associated with an increased risk of developing heart disease, and once you have it, it isn’t curable. It can, however, often be reversed with diet and exercise.
Certain lifestyle habits place you at a higher risk of developing heart disease. Among them, smoking is the most dangerous. Smoking increases the risk of developing plaque in your arteries. It also increases inflammation in your blood vessels, causing them to narrow.
Smoking places an unnecessary burden on your heart and lungs and is a known cause of cardiovascular disease. Your risk of developing cardiovascular disease increases with the number of cigarettes you smoke, and there is no “safe” amount of cigarettes that lowers your risk.
Avoid or Limit Alcohol Consumption
Another lifestyle habit that can interfere with your heart health is drinking alcohol in excess. Alcohol impacts the cardiovascular system initially by increasing your heart rate and elevating your blood pressure. Long-term, excessive alcohol consumption can lead to irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, and weakened heart muscles.
In one study, researchers found that the theory that a glass of red wine a day protected against heart disease was not better for your heart health than total abstinence from alcohol. This led the CDC to update their dietary guidelines for alcohol, suggesting that people who currently do not drink shouldn’t start, and if they do drink, limiting their consumption to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men is best.
The heart is a muscle, and like all muscles, it needs exercise to stay strong and efficient. Although aerobic exercise, aka “cardio,” has long been accepted as the gold standard for a healthy heart, new data suggests that lifting weights (a form of anaerobic exercise) offers standalone heart-healthy benefits, even when it isn’t accompanied by aerobic activity.
Why Lifting Weights Works
Like a lot of people, you might need a little more convincing to wander into the weight room at your gym. It can be intimidating, but it’s absolutely essential for building strong bones and as we’ll see, a healthy heart.
There’s a reason why your heart and blood vessels are referred to as your circulatory system. Together, they deliver oxygen, blood, vitamins, and minerals to every other part of your body.
Good blood circulation is important for overall health. Circulation is also responsible for delivering hormones to your tissues and muscles so they can function properly.
Weightlifting increases blood flow to the muscles. This improves overall circulation and also helps rid your body of waste products, another job of your circulatory system.
Increased Muscle Mass
Bigger muscles aren’t just for aesthetics; they’re good for your heart as well. Increased muscle mass gives the blood in your body a place to live, which means when your heart pumps blood, the blood can travel into the muscles, reducing the blood pressure levels in your arteries.
Lower blood pressure means less risk of developing heart disease. Additionally, muscle mass means your body is able to burn more calories more efficiently, which can help you maintain a healthier weight. A healthy weight is important for both your heart and your total health.
Reduced Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke
The most surprising heart benefit of resistance training is its effect of dramatically lowering your risk of heart attack and stroke. A study published in the Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise Journal discovered that less than one hour per week of resistance significantly reduced the risk of heart attack and stroke in the study participants.
The recent study, which tracked over 13,000 participants for over a decade, found that resistance training reduced the risk of heart attack and stroke independent of additional aerobic exercise.
The co-author of the study, DC Lee, the Associate Professor of Kinesiology at Iowa State University, even suggested that less than five minutes of bench presses per week could be effective for the results found in the study. According to Lee, less than one hour per week of resistance training is enough to reduce your risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a cluster of diseases that places you at a much higher risk of developing heart disease.
The most surprising aspect of the study was perhaps the discovery that even the participants who participated in strength training during some part of the study but did not continue to do it during the remainder of the study still reaped heart-healthy benefits.
The Bulk Factor
Some people are afraid of engaging in weightlifting as a form of exercise because of the change in body composition. If you’re afraid you’ll “bulk up” without losing body fat, don’t be.
It’s generally more difficult to gain muscle mass than it is to lose body fat, so if you’re afraid your muscles will suddenly explode and double in size, you can rest easy (between sets, of course).
If you’re still skeptical, focus on lifting lighter weights for more reps. Lifting heavy weights for fewer reps is key for building muscle. Remember, however, that the more muscle mass you carry, the more calories your body burns, even at rest. Having more muscle can support an overall healthier body weight.
Other Benefits of Lifting Weights
Lifting weights has benefits that extend past your heart health.
Not only is weightlifting good for your heart, bones, and muscles, but it’s also beneficial for your mental health. Although cardiovascular exercise is also beneficial to your mood, new research linked weight training with benefits that helped improve the moods of people who experienced feelings of sadness before weightlifting and prevented people who did not experience these feelings from having them.
Interestingly, the study found that it didn’t matter whether a person lifted heavy weights or light weights or what muscle groups they worked in terms of getting mood-elevating benefits. Even participants who didn’t gain muscle mass still received the same mood-boosting health benefits as people who did gain muscle.
More Caloric Burn:
Having more muscle mass supports a higher caloric burn both during your workouts and while you’re at rest. The body needs to use more energy to support its muscles while they work. It takes more fuel to contract your muscles, which means you’ll burn more calories during certain types of exercise, like heavy lifts, than you would others.
When you’re at rest, you’ll also be burning more calories because muscle tissue actively burns more calories than fatty tissue. However, that doesn’t mean that you can build muscle and expect to magically lose body fat. The calories you burn at rest aren’t significant enough to support notable weight loss.
If you have high cholesterol, you’re probably on a mission to lower it without medication (unless your doctor has suggested that it isn’t a safe option). Adding weight lifting to your exercise routine can help support healthy cholesterol levels.
Resistance training is linked with an increase in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol and lowering low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. It’s also good for helping balance your triglycerides.
By adding a few strength training workouts into your schedule, you can support your cholesterol numbers and help keep your levels within a healthy range.
We’re learning more about how weight lifting and resistance training exercises benefit the body, but we definitely have enough research to know that it’s worth your time and effort to support your heart, mind, muscles, and bones. Now that you know it’s so beneficial, we’ll tell you how to implement it into your routine.
How and What To Do
Even though you know lifting weights is good for your heart, you might not know where to start or how much you actually need to do. It’s easier than you think.
Consider the Gym
No one wants to waltz over to a weight room full of “gym lunks” to fight over dumbbells or sit on a resistance machine they don’t know how to use. Unfortunately, most people don’t have access to free weights or machines at home.
Having a gym membership gives you access to the equipment you need and may result in you working out more than you would at home.
Still feel intimidated? Talk to someone. The representatives at the gym can show you how to properly use the machines. Signing up for a few personal training sessions can kick-start your weightlifting journey by giving you a workout routine and showing you the proper form for lifts.
The study made no differentiation between lifting weights or lifting a shovel of snow. In other words, you don’t have to use weights or machines to get resistance training. Neither your muscles nor your heart can tell whether you’re lifting boxes or a barbell. The point is to perform an activity that requires muscular resistance.
Don’t forget that moving your body weight also counts as resistance training. Squats, burpees, push-ups, and pull-ups are all forms of resistance training exercises you can do with little or no equipment.
Don’t Cut Out Cardio
Not so fast.
Although the findings of the study support weight lifting as an important part of your heart health, cardio exercise is still important. Cardiovascular exercise like running, walking, and biking improves both your lung capacity and function and your heart function. It improves endurance, which can translate into better athletic performance.
The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardiovascular exercise per week. Combining cardio and weight lifting is also the fastest way to lose weight if shedding pounds is your goal.
Lastly, cardio exercise increases your muscles’ capillary and mitochondrial density, making the cells in your muscles more efficient. Your heart health, and your overall health, begins in your cells, which makes protecting them a vital part of supporting heart health.
Supporting Cellular Health
Your cells are the foundation of every tissue, organ, and system in your body. Keeping them healthy keeps your body healthy. Diet and exercise are important for your cells, but science also supports the use of a newly discovered essential fatty acid called C15:0 to help keep your cells healthy and strong.*
What Is C15:0?
C15:0, also known as pentadecanoic acid, is an odd-chain, saturated fatty acid that supports your cells in three key ways:*
- Regulation of metabolism, including cholesterol and glucose homeostasis. C15:0 naturally binds to receptors found throughout our bodies, called PPARs that help to regulate our metabolism and homeostatic processes like maintaining heart health, mood, appetite, and even sleep. By activating these receptors, C15:0 helps promote balance, meaning more stability and consistency where it matters most!
- Improved mitochondrial function. Your cells are powered by mitochondria, but as you age, the mitochondria in your cells slow down, which means cellular function slows down. C15:0 helps improve mitochondrial function by up to 45% — read: increased feelings of energy so you can actually feel motivated for those morning sets or after-work gym trip.
Protection against premature cellular breakdown. Your cells lose their strength over time and can break down, leaving your cells open to damage from external stressors. C15:0 is a sturdy fatty acid that gets integrated into our cell membranes and serves as an armor for our cells to keep them healthy and protected.
Supporting a healthy inflammatory response. C15:0 helps manage proinflammatory cytokines levels, which can help combat the effects of aging.
Maintaining homeostasis. When the body is balanced, it works properly. C15:0 helps bring your body into balance by supporting cellular homeostasis, regulating glucose uptake, and reinforcing the immune system.
Because C15:0 is found mostly in whole-fat dairy products and a few types of fish and plants, it’s unlikely you’re getting enough in your diet. With that, just increasing your whole-fat dairy intake to try and get more C15:0 would mean increasing calories, sugars, and unhealthy, even-chain fats.
The solution? Fatty15.
Fatty15 and Your Heart
Fatty15 is a once-daily supplement that contains just one simple ingredient: the pure, vegan-friendly version of C15:0. Just one capsule per day is enough to increase your C15:0 levels, which has been repeatedly associated with healthy cholesterol and triglyceride levels, as well as improved heart health. Try fatty15 and give your heart and your cells a fighting chance as they age.*
Avoiding the weight room? Not anymore. Do your heart (and your whole body) a favor. Add weightlifting to your workouts to reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke, then round out your health stack by adding in fatty15 to help support your cells, keep your heart happy, and make age your ally.*
Eric Venn-Watson M.D.
Senior Scientist, Co-Founder
Eric is a physician, U.S. Navy veteran, and Co-founder and COO of Seraphina Therapeutics. Eric served over 25 years as a Navy and Marine Corps physician, working with the special forces community to improve their health and fitness. Seraphina Therapeutics is a health and wellness company dedicated to advancing global health through the discovery of essential fatty acids and micronutrient therapeutics.
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