Combining Aerobic and Strength Exercise Improves Heart Health

May 13, 2024 by Jesse Zucker
Combining Aerobic and Strength Exercise Improves Heart Health

WASHINGTON — Setting a goal to start exercising to improve your heart health is a great plan for everyone, regardless of age, gender, or health status. The two main types of exercise are aerobic (or cardio) and resistance (or strength). The CDC and WHO suggest how many minutes per week you should get aerobic exercise, with less information on resistance training.

A recent study published in the European Heart Journal on people with obesity found that aerobic exercise alone or combined resistance plus aerobic exercise, but not resistance exercise alone, improved cardiovascular health. Here, we’ll break down the new study and give you more information on the fitness trend called hybrid training, which combines aerobic and resistance into one great workout. 

Study Finds Combined Exercise Lowers Cardiovascular Risk

Cardiovascular disease causes one in three deaths in the United States. One way to lower your risk of CV disease is to improve your levels of CV risk factors, including blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol. Body fat percentage also may contribute.

The two best ways to improve these factors are to eat a healthy, balanced diet and get regular physical activity. The CDC and WHO recommend 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise to help lower the risk of CV disease. They also recommend two days of resistance training but don’t include how much.

When you regularly do cardio exercise, your heart gets better at pumping blood through your body. Over time, your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to pump blood throughout the rest of your day, lowering your risk of a cardiac event. Resistance training does not provide the same heart benefits, but it strengthens your muscles and bones, improves mobility and can reduce joint pain.

How do you get folks to do both things if they are new to exercise or short on time? Combine them. This year, a study on people with overweight and obesity was published in the European Heart Journal to investigate the best exercise prescription for lowering their CV risk factors. 

The study followed sedentary people with overweight or obesity and high blood pressure, ages 35 to 70, from July 2017 to March 2020. They were split into four groups: one was a control group that did no exercise, and three exercised for 60 minutes three times per week. All exercise groups did a five-minute warm-up and a five-minute cool-down. Here is what they did in between:

  • The aerobic group did a 50-minute cardio session at a moderate intensity using a treadmill, exercise bike, or elliptical machine.
  • The resistance group did 50 minutes of resistance training, including three sets of eight to 16 repetitions on 12 weight machines targeting all muscle groups.
  • The combination group did 25 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio and 25 minutes of resistance exercise (two sets of eight to 16 reps on nine weight machines).

All groups also followed the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension diet and were advised to increase their daily step counts.

CV risk factors — blood pressure, blood sugar, cholesterol, and body fat percentage — were measured at the beginning of the study and every six months. Here are the findings after one year.

  • All three groups had some reduction in body fat percentage.
  • The aerobic group and the combination group equally lowered their other CV risk factors.
  • The resistance group and the control group did not lower CV risk factors.
  • However, the resistance group increased their muscular strength, and the aerobic group did not.

Hybrid Training: What, Why, and How

Combining aerobic and resistance training is also referred to as hybrid training. This type of training can work for people new to exercise, regular gym-goers, and athletes looking to train in two sports, like weightlifting and running.

Why Try It:

  • Saves Time: One significant barrier to exercising regularly is a busy schedule. Getting both done in an hour saves time.
  • More Interesting: The new study mentions that hybrid training may help people comply better with exercise because it’s simply less boring. Changing activities and challenging your body in different ways in the same hour may be more enjoyable and less difficult than doing one type of exercise for longer.
  • Improves Heart Health: Reaching your weekly cardio minutes improves heart health.
  • Builds Muscle and Strength: Doing cardio alone increases your strength somewhat, but less than resistance training. If you only have one hour a few times a week, doing both together ensures you get both heart and skeletal muscle benefits.

How to Try It:

  • For General Health and Fitness: Just trying to reach the minimum exercise recommendation? Decide if cardio or strength is more challenging for you. You’ll have the most energy at the top of your session, so doing the more difficult activity first makes sense. 
  • For a Specific Fitness Goal: For athletes trying hybrid training, pick which sport matters most. If your goal is building muscle or lifting heavier weights, do your strength work first. If you’re a runner who wants to add strength training to support running performance, do your running first.

Make the Most of Your Time

If you’re short on time, reluctant to start exercising, or overwhelmed by all the options, try hybrid training. It’s 30 minutes of resistance training and 30 minutes of cardio. Choose which one comes first based on your energy level. A recent study shows hybrid training helped improve cardiovascular health and muscle strength for people with obesity.

Our website content, services and products are for informational purposes only. The Well News does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you have medical concerns or questions, discuss with your health care professional.

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