Strength Training Versus Cardio: Which One Is Better For Heart Health?

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in Americans. This is especially true for women (per Yale School of Medicine) and African Americans (per MedicalNewsToday). Abnormal heart rhythms (which can lead to a racing heart), hardening of the arteries, and weak heart muscles are all serious signs of different types of heart disease (per Healthline). For those reasons, taking care of your heart should always be a top priority when it comes to your health goals. Developing and maintaining a heart-healthy diet is a good place to start, and committing to a solid exercise regimen follows suit.

The Harvard Medical School lists the 4 categories of exercise as aerobic (or cardio), strength training, stretching, and balance. In terms of heart health, cardio and strength training are the way to go — but which is better? In this article, we'll explore the benefits of both.

How cardio benefits your heart

When people think about heart health and exercise, they usually think of cardio first. The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends getting 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity every week.

Cardio is good for the heart in the sense that it reduces stress. The AHA also states that high levels of stress can increase the risks of heart attack and stroke. Stress can be relieved by high-energy activities, kickboxing, and other exercises (per Everyday Health).

According to Verywell Fit, cardio can also lower your resting heart rate. This is important because it means the heart doesn't have to work as hard to deliver blood throughout the body.

Another benefit of cardio is that it improves the relationship between the heart and lungs, which is known as cardiorespiratory fitness. A 2020 study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health identified high-intensity interval training (HIIT) specifically as a cardio workout that's ideal for improving cardiovascular and respiratory health.

How strength training benefits your heart

Strength training is just as beneficial as cardio for good heart health — the AHA recommends including 2 days of resistance or weight lifting in your exercise regimen.

Dr. Andrew M. Freeman, director of cardiovascular prevention and wellness with National Jewish Health, told Livestrong that one of the primary benefits of strength training is that it helps you burn more calories at rest, which aids in healthy weight management. In turn, this also results in a healthier heart.

In 2019, a study published in JAMA Cardiology discovered that lifting weights can potentially reduce the amount of fat around the heart. A 2021 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology indicated that fat around the heart increases the risk of heart failure, a condition known as a fatty heart. The researchers also noted that a fatty heart is just as threatening to thin people as it is to those who are overweight.

Strength training can also treat hypertension and help blood pressure levels return to normal, as suggested in a research review in Precision Nutrition.