Women: Pumping iron can help your heart pump better too!

How many times have you seen it…you open up your latest women’s exercise magazine and you see a tall, skinny, frail-looking model lifting 5-pound dumbbells while balancing on one leg?

Although it may be a place to start it’s not going to get you much stronger in the long run. As women we need to be strong – physically, mentally, and emotionally, and improved physical strength can only be achieved by consistent resistance training. The research is out there. Resistance training is a crucial part of living a long healthy life, especially for women. Considering February is American Heart Month, I thought now would be a great opportunity to discuss the benefits of strength training for women, particularly when it comes to heart health.

Research published by the American Heart Association (AHA) demonstrates that when appropriately prescribed, resistance training provides improvements in muscular strength and endurance, metabolism, psychosocial well-being, cardiovascular function, and a reduction in coronary risk factors. Years ago it was generally thought that aerobic, or cardiovascular, exercise had the greatest impact on heart health. In fact, it wasn’t until 1990 that strength training was included as part of the recommended guidelines for physical activity. Now, the AHA recommends including resistance training in your exercise routine to maximize cardiovascular benefits and reduce your risk of heart disease.

The benefits of strength training extend far beyond gaining physical strength. When combined with cardiovascular exercise, strength training can significantly improve heart health for those with and without heart disease, especially women. Women who lift weights can expect to experience the following benefits:

  • Increased bone mineral density, which significantly reduces one’s risk for osteoporosis
  • Decreased body fat percentage
  • Increased lean body mass
  • Improved overall strength
  • Increased insulin sensitivity, which reduces one’s risk for diabetes
  • Increased metabolism
  • Increased submaximal and maximal endurance
  • Increased HDL (good) cholesterol and decreased LDL (bad) cholesterol
  • Decreased cardiac demands during daily activities such as carrying groceries or lifting heavy objects
  • Improved health-related quality of life and general mood

Most, if not all, of these benefits positively impact your heart health in some way. Particularly in those with heart disease, resistance training develops bodily strength, improves endurance, and allows for greater independence and quality of life.

Lack of time has got to be the most commonly heard excuse from women, but strength training doesn’t have to take up much time. You can achieve all of the health benefits of strength training by performing 8-10 exercises that target your major muscle groups 2 days per week. That’s only about 60 minutes per week dedicated to lifting weights. That’s something we can all achieve, right?

If it’s safety you’re worried about think about this. Dr. Barry A. Franklin, PhD, director of the cardiac rehabilitation program and exercise laboratories at William Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak says, “It’s more dangerous to remain sedentary than to start an exercise program.” We know physical inactivity has an enormous negative impact on our health, so what are you waiting for? Go find something heavy and lift it for your health!

*To ensure your safety, talk to your doctor or health professional before beginning a strength training program.

Photo credit: greg westfall

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