Cardiovascular disease (CVD) is a leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for approximately one in three deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). However, a recent study published in the European Heart Journal suggests that splitting the recommended amount of physical activity between aerobic and resistance exercise can effectively reduce the risks of cardiovascular disease.
Led by researchers from Iowa State University, the study followed 406 participants aged between 35 and 70 over a year of randomized, controlled exercise. All participants had elevated blood pressure and were classified as overweight or obese. The participants were divided into four groups: no exercise, aerobic only, resistance only, or a combination of aerobic and resistance exercise. Those in the exercise groups had supervised hour-long workouts three times a week for a year.
The workouts were tailored to each participant based on their health conditions, with specific weight-training regimens and heart-rate monitoring protocols. The researchers measured the participants’ CVD risk factors, including blood pressure, cholesterol levels, glucose levels, and body fat percentage, at three points throughout the study.
The results showed that the participants in the aerobic and combined exercise groups had the lowest composite scores for CVD risk factors. Additionally, the combined exercise groups showed improvements in aerobic fitness and strength.
Lead study author Professor Duck-chul Lee, Ph.D., emphasized that individuals can replace half of their aerobic workout with strength training to achieve the same cardiovascular benefits. He also noted that the combined exercise regimen offers additional health benefits, such as improved muscle strength.
The American Heart Association currently recommends 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise per week, along with muscle-strengthening activities. Dr. Rigved Tadwalkar, a board-certified cardiologist, suggests that splitting the recommended amount of activity between aerobic and resistance exercise can be as effective as aerobic-only regimens.
Overcoming stereotypes and barriers to exercise is essential for establishing a regular fitness routine. Dr. Cheng-Han Chen, a board-certified interventional cardiologist, recommends starting with simple activities like walking and gradually increasing activity levels. Dr. Tadwalkar emphasizes the importance of a personalized approach to exercise, tailored to individual preferences and lifestyles.
While the study results are promising, Dr. Chen points out that the relatively homogeneous population of the study limits its generalizability to a broader population. The study authors themselves acknowledge that different exercise practices can have varying effects on different individuals.
Dr. Tadwalkar highlights that the study’s controlled environment, with supervised workouts, may not reflect how most people engage with exercise. He suggests that future studies should focus on real-world settings and incorporate wearable technology to monitor participants’ activities beyond the lab.
To enhance the applicability of the results, Dr. Tadwalkar recommends including a broader spectrum of participants in future studies, considering variations in age, weight, and health status.