Cardio Mixed With Strength Training Reduces Risk of Cardiovascular Disease

New research shows that swapping half your cardio for strength training has the same cardiovascular benefits as a full aerobic workout.

It’s well established that regular cardio exercise can greatly reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, but new research shows that workout regimens that include half aerobic exercises and half resistance training can be just as effective.

The study, conducted by researchers at Iowa State University and published in the European Heart Journal, is one of the longest and largest exercise trails ever completed.

The study included 406 participants between the ages of 35 and 70, all of whom were considered overweight or obese with body mass indexes between 25-40 kg/m2, and had elevated blood pressure. Each of the participants was randomly assigned to one of four groups: no exercise, cardio only, resistance only, or a combination of both. The participants in the three exercise groups worked out for an hour three times per week for a period of one year.

In this case, resistance exercise included performing a certain number of sets and repetitions with weight machines, free weights, elastic bands, or your own body weight through push-ups or lunges.

Researchers collected diet and exercise data from all the participants throughout the trial, as well as information about their blood pressure, cholesterol, and body fat percentage — all of which are cardiovascular disease risk factors.

When the year-long trial was over, the researchers found that all three exercise groups saw a significant decrease in body fat percentage compared to the no-exercise group. This is significant because "every -1% body fat reduction is associated with -3%, -4%, and -8% lower risks of developing [cardiovascular disease] risk factors of hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, and metabolic syndrome," the authors wrote.

However, the cardio-only and combined exercise groups saw better results than the resistance-only group.

Currently, at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic exercise and two sessions per week of resistance training per week are recommended by the World Health Organization, and the European Society of Cardiology for individuals with obesity.

Next, the researchers plan to conduct another randomized controlled resistance exercise trial to determine how long resistance training sessions should be in order to receive their health benefits.

"If you’re bored with aerobic exercise and want variety or you have joint pain that makes running long distances difficult, our study shows you can replace half of your aerobic workout with strength training to get the same cardiovascular benefits," said Duck-chul Lee, lead author and professor of kinesiology at Iowa State, in a news release. "The combined workout also offers some other unique health benefits, like improving your muscles."

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