When it comes to heart health, I’m often asked – is it more important to do cardio or weight training? The answer is, it depends…

I have a great variety of Personal Training clients. Some are young, many more mature, a handful of mums to be, and a few new mums, amongst others. They come to me to help them with a variety of goals. For the most part, / they are seeking motivation to become more active, feel stronger and fitter, and enjoy some form of physical activity.

Being physically active is a major factor for heart health. Many studies have shown that people who exercise regularly are less likely to suffer a sudden heart attack or other life-threatening cardiac event.

The benefits of exercise for the heart include

  • Improving the ability of the muscles to pull oxygen out of the blood, reducing the need for the heart to pump more blood to the muscles
  • Strengthening the heart muscle
  • Reducing stress hormones that can put an extra burden on the heart
  • Working like a beta-blocker to slow the heart rate and lower blood pressure
  • Increasing high-density lipoprotein (HDL) or “good” cholesterol and helping control triglycerides


Cardio (aerobic) exercise has often been touted as the exercise of choice for improving heart health. However, many of my clients are not interested in running long distances or swimming laps in the pool. Resistance training can be the perfect option!

Strength training is an anaerobic form of exercise, which means that your body is creating bursts of energy to produce motion. Unlike aerobic (or cardio exercises) these moves don’t require external oxygen consumption, and therefore allow you to go all out for very short periods of time. Kicking the anaerobic system into high gear has beneficial effects on your heart health. 

Strength training typically increases heart rate and blood pressure to higher levels than what you would typically see in regular jogging, and heavy weight training is like sprinting in that you can only do both for a short amount of time because it requires such high amounts of energy exertion (Ref: Satjit Bhusri).

Here are several heart health benefits that come from lifting weights:

Improves circulation

Having good circulation is important for good health—when your circulation is working well, your body receives the oxygen and nutrients it needs.

Reduces the risk of heart attack or stroke

A recent study showed that weight training may reduce the risk of a heart attack or stroke even if you aren’t regularly participating in aerobic exercise such as hiking or running.

Because strength training increases lean muscle mass, it gives your cardiovascular system somewhere to send the blood that is being pumped. This results in less pressure on your arteries, which helps reduce the chances of heart-related problems.

Interestingly researchers in Copenhagen suggested that weightlifting may offer MORE protection against heart disease than cardio exercise does. Their study found that both types of exercise reduced heart fat among obese individuals, but that resistance training was more likely to reduce a certain type of dangerous heart fat (pericardial adipose tissue) that has been linked to cardiovascular disease.

Both types of exercise did reduce levels of another type of heart fat called epicardial adipose tissue. 


  1. Collier SR et al. Changes in Arterial Distensibility and Flow-Mediated Dilation after Acute Resistance vs. Aerobic Exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 2010 Oct;24(10):2846-52.
  2. Volaklis KA et al. Resistance Training for People With Heart Disease. Harvard Health Letter 10 (2000): 5-6.


Improves Sleep

Other studies show sleep is improved with regular strength workouts. When your quality of sleep improves, your overall quality of life improves because you’re well-rested and better equipped to take on day-to-day activities and reduce stress levels.

Reduces Visceral Fat

Visceral fat is found around your internal organs such as the heart. Consistent weightlifting reduces belly fat and increases lean muscle mass, helping you reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.

What exercise is best for heart health – Conclusion

Add weightlifting to your routine. Start small and you’ll soon see the heart-healthy benefits from adding strength training to your exercise regimen. However,  don’t throw away your running trainers just yet. A synergy between aerobic exercise and resistance training supports optimal heart health (Ref :Schoenfeld )

Although strength training changes your muscle physiology, it can’t necessarily help pump your blood more efficiently or help you breathe more efficiently. So if you have a goal to run a 10K or cycle around Richmond Park more quickly, you will need to do more than weight train. You will need to run, or cycle.

As a Personal Trainer, I always ask the question  What are your Goals? Then you can choose an exercise regime that will help you to meet those goals

If you would like some advice on an exercise regime to meet your goals, please contact me using this online form