Cardio & Weight Lifting: What's Better for Heart Health?

Heart disease is one of the most common causes of death in the United States. The heart plays an integral role in your body's ability to stay healthy, and living a sedentary lifestyle with poor dietary habits can be a recipe for disaster.

Improving your cardiovascular and heart health through exercise can help, but it can also be overwhelming with all the information that’s out there. Many factors can further this confusion and make it more difficult for you to start your journey. 

There are two main types of exercise that are utilized for maintaining a healthy heart and body: aerobic exercise and resistance training. You may have heard them called “cardio” and “weight lifting.” 

The problem with this misconception is that terms like weight lifting only describe one method of resistance training when there are actually many methods of resistance training. These can include using resistance bands or body weight. 

Below is a closer look at these two exercise approaches, their benefits, and how beneficial they are to your heart health.

How Can Aerobic Exercise Benefit Heart Health?

Cardio workouts, better referred to as aerobic exercises, are a type of exercise that puts your heart and cardiovascular system to work. Some common aerobic exercises can include walking, biking, hiking, running, utilizing an elliptical machine, swimming, and rowing.

The consistent use of various muscle groups during these types of workouts requires an immense amount of energy and oxygen to support them. This can require the heart and lungs to work hard to continually supply the muscles with oxygen and effectively remove waste products. 

Compared to other forms of exercise, aerobic exercise is better suited to burn calories, reduce body fat, facilitate weight loss, and improve cardiovascular endurance. 

How Often Should You Do Aerobic Exercise?

The health benefits of cardio exercise can be immense, but only when performed on a routine basis. Consistency is the key when it comes to seeing results. 

How often you work out should depend on where you are on your fitness journey and if you have any conditions that may require you to rest more frequently. When it comes to aerobic exercise, you should try and shoot for a little bit every day. 

When you’re starting out, these workouts don’t need to be very intense or long in duration. Simply incorporating a daily walk into your day is all you need to get started. 

In the beginning, showing up every day and building the habit is crucial. Once your body has started to adapt, you can gradually increase intensity and session duration to push your cardiovascular system to improve. 

How Long Should a Session Be?

How long you should work out is another variable to consider with cardiovascular exercise. Getting your heart rate up can take some time. 

For a healthy individual, experts recommend a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate intensity cardio a week, which equates to about 21 minutes a day. 

This is doable for most individuals, but some may have underlying conditions that can make this long of a session difficult to achieve. For these individuals, enrollment into a cardiac or pulmonary rehab program can help them safely ease into aerobic exercise. 

How Can Resistance Training Benefit Heart Health?

When people think about strength training and resistance training, they typically think of bodybuilders and individuals whose main goal is to gain muscle. 

While weight training can certainly promote muscle growth, it can also help maintain muscle mass, prevent atrophy, retain mobility, increase functional body strength, improve balance, and promote a balanced body composition.

Resistance training can benefit your heart health by promoting fat loss and muscle development. Maintaining a good body composition can have a direct impact on your heart, and resistance training can help your body build muscle while also burning fat. 

How Often Should You Do Resistance Training?

Resistance training is quite different from aerobic exercise. Consistency is still key in resistance training to see the most benefit; however, your body will typically require more time to recover. Recovery time can vary depending on whether you are training with your body weight or free weights and how much you are lifting. 

Experts recommend that healthy individuals get a minimum of two non-consecutive days of moderate-intensity resistance training a week. This standard is for individuals that don’t have limitations or preexisting health conditions. For people with pre-existing conditions, two low-intensity training sessions during the week may be a better fitness goal. 

How Long Should a Session Be?

The length of a resistance training session is highly dependent on the exact training you’re doing and the overall goal of the training session. Certain resistance training exercises require many reps, while others focus on fewer reps and more weight. You also need to factor in appropriate cool-down windows.

The overall amount of time spent during a session can vary. Having a personal trainer or another exercise professional can help you ensure adequate warm-ups and cool-down times between reps to avoid potential injury and maximize benefits. 

Aerobic Exercise or Resistance Training: Which Is Better?

Aerobic exercise and resistance training both have their places and are valuable aspects of a well-rounded fitness regimen. 

When it comes to heart health, aerobic exercise tends to win over resistance training, as it focuses directly on improving cardiovascular fitness. The heart benefits of resistance training come more indirectly via improved body composition and weight loss.

Resistance training is helpful because it applies strain and resistance to the muscles of your body. Aerobic exercise also places a good amount of strain on your body, but it targets the heart and cardiovascular system. Aerobic exercise can push the heart and cardiovascular system to adapt and become more resilient. 

Can You Combine Aerobic Exercise and Resistance Training?

Doing separate aerobic and resistance training routines can be cumbersome, especially if you have other obligations. Because of this, many people opt to combine them. 

Combining aerobic exercise and resistance training is quite common, and many people refer to it as combined training. Some exercises you can do that combine these two include high-intensity interval training (HIIT), water aerobics, rowing, and using weights during aerobic exercise. 

Combined training isn’t for everyone, and it is important to realize that incorporating resistance training may require more time for recovery.

How Can I Craft the Right Exercise Program for Heart Health?

Creating your own exercise program from scratch can be incredibly time intensive and potentially nerve-racking if you have a preexisting condition. This is why programs like cardiac rehabilitation exist. 

Cardiac rehabilitation is a type of program that aims to improve heart and cardiovascular health through positive lifestyle modifications. Some of the ways it does this are through monitored exercise, health education, education on heart-healthy dietary habits, and other means of support. 

These programs tend to be led by an exercise physiologist who can craft a program that is tailored to an individual's physical ability, their body’s tolerability to exercise, and their overall health goals. 

Carda Health is a virtual cardiac rehabilitation program that can provide you with expertise, live vitals monitoring, guidance, and support to help you live a more heart-healthy lifestyle. 

The enrollment process is easy, and with an at-home approach, you can focus more on improving your overall fitness and less on driving to a rehabilitation center and working around the schedule of a traditional cardiac rehab program. 

The Bottom Line

When it comes to the debate as to whether resistance training or aerobic exercise is best for heart health, aerobic exercise comes out as the undisputed winner. While aerobic exercise is generally the better type of exercise for your overall heart health, it is still important to integrate resistance training into your exercise routine. 

Resistance training can help you maintain muscle tone, retain mobility, and have a functional level of strength to perform day-to-day activities. 

If you’re looking for a specialized physical training program that incorporates live vitals monitoring and has your cardiac health at heart, consider partnering with Carda. Our at-home cardiac rehab programs are convenient, easy, and tailored to your body’s unique needs.


Heart Disease Facts | CDC

The Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans | The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS)

Resistance Training for Health and Fitness | American College of Sports Medicine

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