The premise: When it comes to exercise, aerobic activity is traditionally recommended for heart health, while resistance training is prescribed for muscle gain. Many understand the importance of an exercise routine that combines both aerobic and resistance circuits, but a new study from Appalachian State University finds that resistance exercise (such as lifting weights) also packs some cardiovascular health benefits.
The set-up: A group of researchers looked at changes that occurred to arteries and blood flow following 45 minutes of two different types of moderate-intensity exercise: a set of eight resistance exercises, three sets of 10 repetitions; and 30 minutes of aerobic cycling. Responses measured included blood vessel widening in response to increased blood flow (flow-mediated dilation) and arterial stiffness (versus distensibility). Greater flow-mediated dilation and lower arterial stiffness are key contributors to cardiovascular health.
The results: "Resistance training is more beneficial than many believe," says lead researcher, Dr. Scott R. Collier. The resistance exercises produced a different pattern of blood vessel responses than the aerobic exercise, suggesting that the former may have important and unique benefits for cardiovascular health. The resistance exercise produced greater increases in blood flow to the limbs—even though it also caused small increases in central arterial stiffness. In contrast, aerobic exercise decreased arterial stiffness—but without an increase in blood flow.
Resistance exercise also led to a longer-lasting drop in blood pressure (as much as 20 percent) after exercise, compared to aerobic exercise. "The key is to educate cardio-only individuals to become aware that they will not look like Arnold Schwarzenegger when they wake up!" Collier adds that resistance training may also improve running, swimming and cycling times.
The takeaway: "We have shown that using typical resistance machines—such as LifeFitness equipment found in most fitness centers—three days a week at a moderate intensity (65 percent of your 10-repetition maximum) for three sets and 10 repetitions can lead to heart benefits," says Collier. He also adds that one should complete reps at a slow rate to get the most effective workout from the equipment.