It was the morning of our 10th anniversary. I answered the phone without so much as a glance at the caller ID, quite sure it was my husband calling, being the sweetheart he is. But there was another voice on the line. My uncle. Telling me my dad had just died of a massive heart attack.
The hours and days following that are a nightmarish blur, but I distinctly recall receiving the certificate of death from the state of Georgia. In the “cause of death” box were just two letters, MI. Myocardial infarction. The blood flow to Dad’s heart had been blocked for a long enough time, and his heart deprived of enough oxygen, that it was simply damaged beyond repair. The silent killer had struck again.
Over the years, we have all heard the myriad news reports warning us about heart disease. We hear terms like “plaque build up”, “blocked arteries”, and “sticky blood platelets” almost daily. I would venture to say that by now most of us have a pretty good idea of what we should and should not eat to keep our hearts healthy. We are also familiar with a whole list of Do’s and Don’ts: Do watch your blood pressure; Don’t smoke; Do reduce your stress; Don’t overeat…need I go on? And with regard to exercise, we all know we should ramp up that cardio training, right? Well, sort of.
As it turns out, strength training (also called resistance training), helps maximize the benefits of your cardio training. How? Think of it in terms of cross-training. Strength training works the heart in an entirely different way. As you lift a weight or push against a resistance, the muscle you are working contracts, restricting the blood vessels within. Your heart has to overcome this increased pressure in order force blood through the muscle and through the body. And, just like any other muscle, over time it compensates by turning into a lean, mean pumping machine.
Your cardio training, meanwhile, increases blood flow into that muscular ticker of yours, which can now accommodate more blood. A bigger blast of blood means fewer beats are needed, which ultimately means a lightened workload for your heart.
Additionally, we know from biology and health class that exercise triggers the formation of new blood vessels. That said, the really cool teamwork occurs when your cardio training increases the number of new blood vessels and your strength training increases the size of those blood vessels. Sounds like a winning combination, doesn’t it?
In July of 2007, just seven months after I lost Dad, the American Heart Association changed its stance on strength training, stating that moderate strength training offers substantial benefits to those with heart disease. Mark Williams, PhD, of Creighton University School of Medicine summed it up well: “Just as we once learned that people with heart disease benefitted from aerobic exercise, we are now learning that guided, moderate weight training also has significant benefits.”
One study out of Duke University, (The Studies of Targeted Risk Reduction through Defined Exercises, or STRIDE), concluded that lifting weights for more than 30 minutes a week can lower one’s risk of heart disease by about 23%. That’s pretty big, my friends!
So now it appears we can add “heart health” to a list of strength training benefits, which already include increased muscle strength, increased bone density, and increased lean muscle mass. How is that for motivation?
Of course, before you begin any exercise program, you should consult your doctor. As for me, I’m heading to the basement to dust off my free-weights. Something tells me Dad would be proud.
Maureen Krivo is the owner of Sapphire Fitness, LLC and creator of CLUB JAM, a high-energy, high fun-factor approach to dance fitness. She is an AFAA-Certified Group Fitness and Kickboxing Instructor, as well as a Certified ZUMBA Instructor.
For more on the courses Maureen Krivo offers, visit http://www.sapphirefitnessllc.com/.