In training? Make sure it’s resistance!

Posted by on Jan 17, 2011 in exercise | 4 comments

For some time now, experts have advised that aerobic exercise is preferred over other forms of physical activity for reducing the risk of heart disease. One key reason is that it confers favorably changes in the arteries, making them pliant and able to assist with blood flow and maintenance of normal blood pressure. Although our arteries tend to stiffen naturally with age (losing their elasticity), other factors, including high cholesterol, an unhealthy diet, obesity and sedentary behavior also contribute. Unfortunately, the stiffer arteries become, the more difficult it is for blood to flow, meaning that the heart has to work harder to pump blood. This leads to high blood pressure, stroke and of course, death.

So, is the only physical option aerobic? Evidently not.

Historically, resistance training has been shown to increase the stiffness of the arteries. However, it also protects bone (thereby lowering the risk for osteoporosis), helps to maintain normal weight and promotes general health and wellbeing. These factors in particular, are essential to women as they age. However, for the first time, researchers are now saying that resistance training may confer heart benefits that are similar to aerobic exercise.

In a very small study published last year in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, the effects of resistance training on the arteries and blood flow were thoroughly examined in young adult men, who, following a brief warm up, performed resistance exercises on weight machines; repetitions ranged from 3 to 15, and subsequent weight was added or reduced in increments to achieve the most optimal effort from each man. They found that 45 minutes moderate intensity resistance training, despite causing the arteries to stiffen, actually increased blood flow and as a result, lowered participant’s blood pressure by as much as 20%. What’s more, these benefits were greater than those seen with aerobic exercise, but, residual effects appeared to continue at least 30 to 60 minutes after resistance training stopped and recovery started. Among individuals who trained 30 to 45 minutes three times a week, these benefits continued for at least 24 hours.

The researchers point out that although it’s difficult to directly compare aerobic activity and resistance training, particularly with regards to exercise intensity, they believe that resistance training has an important role in lowering blood pressure and may be as “good as or better” than the benefit seen with antihypertensive medications.” They also say that for people who have orthopedic or weight limitations and can’t walk or run for long distances, these findings offer an important alternative: resistance training.

At the end of the day, any training is good, so long as it is supervised. Now it appears that adding resistance training to aerobic activity imparts a lot more benefits than previously thought. Aerobic AND resistance training = win/win for your heart and your health. Want to learn more? The American Council on Exercise has a great website on resistance and strength training. My friend Andrea Metcalf also provides some wonderful guidance in her new book, Naked Fitness.


  1. 1-17-2011

    Plus resistance training makes you stronger and you feel more empowered. Great post Liz! Inspires me to do it more often!

    • 1-17-2011

      Terrific Lori! Glad that you found the time to read the post before your workout! 😉

  2. 1-17-2011

    And….wait for it…ta da – you expend more kcals with a combo of cardio & resistance training. I love reading your posts because they are well-researched with up-to-date info! Thanks.

    • 1-17-2011

      That’s a huge compliment, considering the source! Thank you so much!


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