Surya Gabriel Iacono talks the link between heart health and exercise

The debate over cardio versus weightlifting rages on. And while many keen exercisers passionately defend their choice of exercise, there are studies that show clear benefits for weights and resistance training. 

A new study shows that resistance training is more effective at reducing a specific type of heart fat in overweight and obese people. The study focuses on the fat surrounding the heart that is linked with cardiovascular disease, and heart attack deaths. 

Weight training important for heart health

Published in JAMA Cardiology, the research shows that the specific heart fat, which is called pericardial adipose tissue, is lowered in people who weight train, but not in people who only do aerobic exercise. However, both weightlifting and cardio does reduce a separate type of heart fat (epicardial adipose tissue), which is also linked with heart disease

Reuters reports that the lead author of the research, Dr Regitse Hojgaard Christensen, expressed surprise at the research results. Dr Christensen is a researcher at the Centre for Physical Activity Research and the Centre of Inflammation and Metabolism at Copenhagen University Hospital. 

The study does not show why weight training affects pericardial adipose tissue differently than aerobic resistance training. However, other studies also show that resistance (weight) training works better to increase metabolism and muscle mass when compared with endurance (aerobic) training alone. Dr Christensen speculates that people who weight train over doing purely cardio are burning more calories through the whole day. This includes the periods of time between exercising. 

Aerobic exercise versus resistance exercise

The study recruited 32 obese, overweight and sedentary adults who do not have any signs of heart disease or diabetes. Each person was randomly given a 12-week programme, which was either based on weight training, aerobic exercise or no change in exercise habits. 

To test the effectiveness of each regime, an MRI of the heart was carried out at the start of the study and again at the end. Final results show that both exercise regimes reduce epicardial adipose mass compared with no exercise. Weight training reduced it by 24%, and endurance cardio by 32%. However, only weight training impacted pericardial adipose tissue, which went down by 31% compared with no exercise. 

How should you exercise for maximum benefit?

The resistance weight training used in the study was interval training of 45 minutes duration. It was based on lots of repetitions lifting medium weights under a time limit. Participants in the study assigned the weight training programme carried out three to five sets of ten exercises under supervision. 

Just this exercise set was enough to reduce both kinds of heart fat. The study didn’t combine both exercise types, although it seems that it’s almost a certainty that both would work very well. While this is not the first study in this area, it is one of the only research groups to look specifically at the link between fat around the heart and exercise. 

So, what’s the best way to keep the fat around the heart at bay? It’s important to realise that although this study concentrated on obese people, it’s very possible to have fat around the heart even if you are outwardly of a normal weight. The best way to combat this problem is to combine cardio with resistance-based weights. For example, add in press-ups, sit-ups, lunges or dumbbells with your morning run. 

About Surya Gabriel Iacono

Surya Iacono is a fitness and wellness expert and blogger based in London, UK. Surya’s fitness blogs are aimed at keen gym-goers and exercise fans already well into their journey and looking for tips, tricks and ideas to take it to the next level.

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