The cardiovascular health benefits of resistance training

Resistance training can reduce your risk of chronic disease, help you live longer and avoid injury.

Resistance bands are one of many ways you can make resistance training a part of your lifestyle.
Resistance bands are one of many ways you can make resistance training a part of your lifestyle.

Have you ever wondered why muscle-strengthening activities, such as resistance training with weights, are included in the physical activity recommendations? You may know that one benefit of resistance training is increasing or maintaining muscle mass, but did you know that meeting the physical activity recommendations for resistance training also helps strengthen the heart and cardiovascular system?

Resistance training can reduce your risk of chronic disease and help you live longer

When we think of receiving cardiovascular benefits from exercise, we usually think of aerobic exercise such as walking, running or swimming. These activities are beneficial in that they provide numerous health benefits such as reducing risks for heart attacks and strokes. However, resistance training activities such as heavy gardening can also lower risk for hypertension, lower resting blood pressure, improve cholesterol and decrease chronic inflammation. Additionally, resistance exercise can improve insulin sensitivity and reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes. All of these health benefits not only decrease risks of heart attack or stroke, but also overall mortality.

Resistance training can help you avoid injury and complement other exercise activities

Perhaps, you already run, swim, or bike, but you are considering adding resistance training to your current exercise regime. We already know that resistance training improves cardiovascular health and thereby could improve cardiovascular performance. But there are other potential health benefits attributed to resistance training, which are important to those who primarily perform cardiovascular exercise for physical activity. As with any activity, injuries can sometimes occur, even among individuals who perform cardiovascular exercise. Not only does resistance training strengthen muscle, tendon, and ligaments, it also improves bone density. Each of these physical changes reduces one’s risk of injury, so you can continue to enjoy your other recreational activities.

How to incorporate resistance training into your daily routine

Now, you may be thinking, “I want to begin resistance training,” but I do not want to go to a commercial gym. That is perfectly fine assuming you are performing an appropriate activity in lieu of weight training. This could be training with bodyweight, resistance bands or doing regular heavy gardening activities. Before beginning any resistance training program, please consult with your physician and ultimately a health professional who specializes in resistance training. You do not want to jump into any demanding or complex resistance training routine (e.g., weight lifting, heavy gardening) unless you are under the guidance of someone knowledgeable in the field. Experts in this field typically include trained and educated individuals supporting credentials from either the National Strength and Conditioning Association or the American College of Sports Medicine. Regardless, always be sure to warm up prior to activity and utilize appropriate form.

Do you want to find out how much exercise you need to do? In a previous article, I summarized what the current recommendations are for muscle-strengthening. If you already have resistance training experience and want to further improve your muscular fitness explore Evidence-Based Physical Activity Recommendations: Part 2.

Whether you plan on weight lifting at your local health club or making heavy gardening a normal part of your routine, remember that resistance training provides many benefits that make the time and effort required worth the investment.   

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