It’s National Heart Health Month, and I’ve got some excellent news for the folks who hate doing cardio exercises but still want to look and feel their best. This news could also provide an added incentive to maintain that freshly minted gym membership you bought for 2020.
It seems that lifting weights not only builds muscles, but can also help fight off heart disease! Recent research indicates that weight training might be just as significant for heart health as cardio exercise is.
An observational study published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise suggests that weight training—even as little as 60 minutes per week, split up into two or three sessions—can improve longevity and cut the risk of a severe heart attack or stroke by as much as 70 percent.
These statistics even applied to people who didn’t regularly pursue any “aerobic/cardio” style of exercise. This study, which followed more than 12,500 people for almost 20 years, went on to suggest that spending additional time in the gym to work out longer or train more often did not appear to increase these cardiovascular health benefits.
In this case, the researchers believe resistance training helps reduce the risk of developing heart disease due to its ability to improve overall strength and body composition. The effect may result in less visceral body fat, more muscle, and a decreased risk of developing high cholesterol.
What do I find particularly exciting about this interesting study? Well, it not only promotes weight training as an essential part of establishing overall heart health as we age, but also suggests that weight training can improve your physique, maintain youthfulness, and keep your sex drive alive, too!
On a side note, however, it’s essential to understand that this particular study focuses solely on heart health. While applying the principles outlined should improve your cardiovascular standing, it doesn’t promise you washboard abs or bulging biceps. For that, you would need a more disciplined program structured for aesthetics (a topic that I’ll save for another article).
For now, you can rest assured that the risk of cardiovascular disease can be minimized if preventive measures like those noted within the study are applied. You can also improve your results exponentially by eating a healthy, well-balanced diet to feed your active lifestyle properly.
If you were to follow a formal diet, the Mediterranean Diet is the one most likely suited to heart health. That diet plan includes many of the following:
• A wide selection of raw fruits and vegetables.
• Lean proteins such as skinless chicken, skinless turkey, and broiled fish.
• Fish rich in omega and essential fatty acids like tuna, salmon, herring, mackerel, and trout.
•Reduced intake of alcohol, red meats, fried foods, refined sugars, and processed grain products.
• Reduced consumption of sodium (including baking soda, preservatives, MSG, tenderizers, and table salt).
For some, adding supplements and herbal products to their diet may also be beneficial in the prevention of heart disease. Such natural remedies might include supplements like those listed below, which certain studies consider useful in managing heart health:
• Garlic. Some studies suggest that supplementing your diet with garlic will lower blood pressure by reducing the cholesterol levels in your body.
•Vitamin C. This vitamin is an essential antioxidant that may help in regulating blood pressure.
• Ginkgo biloba. Studies determine that Ginkgo biloba may serve to prevent the formation of damaging free radicals in our circulatory system.
• Niacin, chromium picolinate, and selenium. These three elements combined may aid in lowering LDL cholesterol (the cholesterol considered harmful).
•Calcium and magnesium complex. Supplementing with this combination of minerals may help in the cardiac muscle function of your body.
• Essential fatty acids. When you can’t regularly consume fatty fish (like those previously listed), consider supplementing with these essential fatty acids, which include fish oil, primrose oil, and flaxseed oil (all of which have been found helpful in countering the hardening of your arteries).
Proper hydration, in addition to the foods and supplements outlined above, is also essential. Try to maintain a minimum of six to eight 8-ounce cups of water each day. Hydration is especially important on the days you choose to exercise.
Lastly, if you’re the type that suffers from high levels of anxiety or daily stress, practicing relaxation techniques could enhance your heart-healthy results, too. These techniques might include yoga, meditation, self-affirmation/visualization, or Tai Chi.
Taking care of your heart means being mindful of what it takes to keep it healthy. But regardless of how old (or young) you are, the importance of beginning a suitably consistent exercise program can’t be stressed enough, especially as we age.
Exercise, in combination with a healthy diet and perhaps the use of herbal and mineral supplements, may prove to significantly reduce your chances of developing fatal heart disease. Here, again, your exercise program doesn’t have to be strenuous or complicated. You can start with gentle walking or swimming, and then advance to different types of fitness and resistance exercise. However, regardless of your routine, you must be sure to check with your healthcare provider before you begin any fitness program, in order to ensure that there are no immediate contraindications that might endanger you.
Although cardiovascular research reveals much regarding the effective prevention of heart disease as we age, the fundamental truth is this: you have more control than you might think you do. Know that you are the Numero Uno in charge of your health, your physical strength, and your heart. So be smart about the choices you make. Exercise regularly, eat well, and seek the advice of a health and fitness professional.
This article appears in the February 2020 edition of OutSmart magazine.