Aerobics and weight training — The perfect combo for lowering heart disease risk?

AMES, Iowa — Exercising does much more than help keep you fit — it also reduces your risk of developing heart disease. Researchers at Iowa State University, in one of the largest and longest supervised exercise trials, have discovered that a combined regimen of aerobic and resistance exercise can be as effective as aerobic-only workouts for lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease, especially for overweight or obese individuals.

The study explored the effects of different types of exercise on cardiovascular health. While aerobic exercise has been known to reduce risks, this study compared its effects with resistance (strength or weight) training and a combination of both.

“If you’re bored with aerobic exercise and want variety or you have joint pain that makes running long distances difficult, our study shows you can replace half of your aerobic workout with strength training to get the same cardiovascular benefits,” says study lead author Duck-chul Lee, a professor of kinesiology at Iowa State, in a university release. “The combined workout also offers some other unique health benefits, like improving your muscles.”

Seniors doing aerobic exercise class at gym
A combined regimen of aerobic and resistance exercise can cut heart disease risk. (© LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS –

Researchers analyzed data from 406 participants between 35 and 70 years-old, all classified as overweight or obese. These participants were randomly assigned to one of four groups: no exercise, aerobic only, resistance only, or a combination of aerobic and resistance. For one year, those in the exercise groups followed tailored workout routines three times a week under supervision.

Participants also engaged in the “Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension” education and recorded their dietary intake using a tool developed by the U.S. National Cancer Institute. Key cardiovascular disease risk factors — systolic blood pressure, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, fasting glucose, and body fat percentage — were measured at the start, mid-point, and end of the trial.

“Many previous studies only looked at one of these four factors, but it’s really multiple factors combined that increase cardiovascular disease risk,” explains Lee.

The main findings showed that both the aerobic and combined exercise groups had significant reductions in body fat and lower composite scores indicating reduced cardiovascular disease risk. However, resistance exercise alone did not yield similar heart health benefits when compared to the control group.

Additionally, the study revealed that participants in the aerobic-only group improved in the VO2max test, a measure of aerobic fitness, while the resistance-only group improved in muscular strength tests. Participants in the combination exercise group showed improvements in both areas.

weight training
(Photo by Anastase Maragos on Unsplash)

The study’s findings align with physical activity guidelines recommending both resistance and aerobic exercise, but the optimal duration of these exercises remains uncertain. Lee aims to further investigate the ideal “dose” of resistance exercise in a forthcoming study, also focusing on adults who are overweight or obese.

The study is published in the European Heart Journal.

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