Without a doubt the best workout for your heart is aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, swimming, or cycling. However, that isn't the only kind of activity shown to be beneficial to heart health.
Strength training is also important for overall fitness, and research indicates your heart will benefit too.
Strength training, is exercise which builds muscle mass — but don't worry, I'm not talking about pumping iron like Arnold Schwarzenegger — merely strengthening and toning exercises, which you can do in the comfort of your own home, if gym workouts aren't your thing.
Strength Training Benefits
Your muscle mass peaks at around 30 years of age, and gradually declines until your 50s. After 50 it tends to decline pretty fast. So, this is why having a workout regimen, which works the entire body is important.
A study in pre-menopausal women, published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (1999), demonstrated that strength training actually lowered total cholesterol, by 10 percent, and LDL cholesterol by 14 percent — study authors concluded that resistance training had a favorable effect on lipid profile and body fat percentage.
Other benefits of strength training are that it:
- Protects you from osteoporosis.
- Protects your joints.
- Speeds up your metabolism — encouraging weight loss.
- Makes you less prone to injury.
- Tones loose muscles.
Strength Training Requirements
The American Council on Exercise recommend that for a workout to be "cholesterol-lowering" it needs to be at a moderate intensity, using your own body weight for resistance, or free weights, such as dumbbells, barbells, resistance bands, etc.
In terms of your workout requirements, a combination of three forms of exercise is thought to be important for a marked improvement in health. These are:
- Aerobics to get your heart rate up.
- Strength training to build muscle mass.
- Flexibility exercises, like stretching or Pilates, to keep you supple.
So, how often should you be doing resistance training exercises?
You should aim to perform strength training exercises two to three times per week for about 20 minutes at a time.
Focus on working your major muscle groups, these are back, chest, quads, shoulders, hamstrings, glutes, biceps, triceps, abs and calves.
Your strength training routine should include:
- An exercise for each major muscle group.
- 3-4 sets for each exercise.
- 8-10 reps per set.
- 1-2 minute rest periods between your sets.
Strength training exercises should be performed slowly and deliberately, rushing through them is dangerous, and can actually lead to injury. Also, protect your back by keeping your stomach muscles tensed throughout these exercises.
If you are unsure about taking up a new form of exercise, consult your doctor for clarification.