The New Found Power Movement isn’t solely committed to transforming your physical appearance or training for feats of strength. NFP Gear is a company committed to whole-body health as well as physical and emotional wellness.
February is Heart Month, so for this week’s blog, we’re focusing on the health of your ticker. You may not be able to show off the strength of your heart, but a strong heart can add quality years to your life.
At one point, it was widely believed that lifting weights could be bad for your heart. As a result, those with high blood pressure or candidates with potential heart complications were advised to avoid heavy weights. Since then, doctors have revised their prescriptions for prospective heart patients – strength training is back on the “to-do” list for heart health.
But, for safety …
Those with uncontrolled blood pressure (180/110 mm Hg or higher according to the Mayo Clinic) or high-risk heart conditions should consult a doctor before beginning any strength training program. Weight training is often accompanied by a temporary spike in blood pressure. For most individuals, the long term benefits far outweigh the minimal risk of a temporary blood pressure spike, but it’s best to be safe and talk to a doctor first!
For those who are generally healthy, even minimal strength training can lead to substantial results when it comes to overall heart health.
Lifting weights = Healthy blood pressure
A study published in the Journal of Human Hypertension in 2011 studied the effects of weight training on 15 middle-aged men with high blood pressure. All of the men had blood pressures ranging from 140-159 mm Hg systolic and 90-99 mm Hg. This is considered stage one hypertension. The study participants, if already taking medication for blood pressure, went off their medications throughout the study.
For 12 weeks, the 15 men completed 3 sets of 12 reps at 60 percent of their one rep max for a variety of upper and lower body strength training exercises. After 12 weeks, the participants’ average systolic blood pressure decreased by 16 points, and their diastolic blood pressure decreased by 12 points. This shift means the men were no longer stage 1 hypertensive, but categorized pre-hypertension, which is much safer.
Considering the overwhelmingly negative effects of hypertension on your body, decreasing your systolic blood pressure by 16 points means a drastic improvement of overall health.
A similar study, conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan, analyzed weight training’s effect on blood pressure after 8 weeks of exercise. The study’s results revealed that participants decreased their diastolic blood pressure by 8 points. Though this is a smaller margin of improvement from that of the former study, an 8 point drop still reduces the risk of suffering a heart attack by 15 percent and drops the risk of a stroke by 40 percent.
According to the American Heart Association, you only need two or three strength training sessions per week to improve heart health.
Overall Strength = Longer lifespan
A stronger body means a longer life according to researchers at the University of South Carolina. Total body strength is strongly associated with low death rates from cardiovascular disease and cancer. A similar study found that those who strength train as middle-aged men and women were more likely to live to the age of 85 without developing major diseases.
Reducing fat = Reduced risk
Those with more muscle than average know their BMI (Body Mass Index) will often show they are “overweight.” However, the BMI height/weight ratio doesn’t account for muscle mass.
Even if you have a “normal” weight or Body Mass Index, the ratio of muscle to fat can mean a major difference in your overall health and your lifespan. Researchers at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center used findings from national nutrition surveys for their study. They focused on 70-year-olds whose weight was in the normal range.
Over the next 11 years, the researchers found that women with “normal” body weights, but excess body fat, were 57 percent more likely to die from heart-related complications than women with a healthy amount of body fat. Men with higher body fat percentages were also at a higher risk of death due to heart complications.
Fortunately, weight training will help your body burn fat while adding additional fat-burning muscle. This means that even if the numbers on the scale are exactly the same, strength training ensures that more of your body weight is allocated to muscle rather than fat stores.
Studies also indicate that lifting weights helps to decrease the amount of fat that surrounds the body’s organs. This kind of fat, though you may not be able to see it, is associated with a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.
Better blood flow = Healthier heart
Longer term studies have concluded that strength training leads to lower blood pressure. However, researchers are also finding that strength training improves arterial blood flow not after weeks, but in minutes.
Researchers examined the change in arteries after participants performed both resistance exercises (strength training) and aerobic cycling. What they found was surprising! We often associate cardio like running and cycling with heart heath. However, according to lead researcher, Dr. Scott R. Collier, strength training can provide healthy heart benefits in a slightly different way.
Both greater flow-mediated dilation of the arteries and decrease arterial stiffness are associate with cardiovascular health. Weight training resulted in greater arterial blood flow, while leading to a slight increase in arterial stiffness. In contrast, aerobic exercise decreased arterial stiffness, but did not enhance blood flow.
The key takeaway? Both weight training and aerobic exercise help your heart in different ways. Combine them for maximum health benefits.
Lower cholesterol = Fewer heart complications
While cholesterol isn’t all bad – we need some for our bodies to function properly – elevated LDL (“bad”) cholesterol is associated with coronary heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
In terms of “bad” cholesterol levels, strength training may offer better results than simply losing weight.
A 2010 study published in “Obesity” revealed that participants who combined dieting and weight training for 16 weeks lowered their cholesterol. Participants who only dieted, though both groups lost a similar amount of weight, did not lower their cholesterol.
The bottom line
Though lifting weights was once thought to be potentially hazardous for the heart, modern research has flipped that theory – proving that lifting weights leads to optimum health.
NFP Gear was founded by a group of athletes fanatical about fitness. We are committed fueling your passion for whole body health no matter where you are on your fitness journey. We wear our own gear and take our own supplements. And since we want the best for our bodies – we only offer what’s best for yours: highly researched, high quality components, and never any fillers. Join the movement!
*NFP Blogs are not written or reviewed by doctors. Please consult a medical professional prior to beginning any exercise program.