Strength Training and the Heart: A Match Made in Fitness Heaven

by Muhammad Abdullah

Let’s be honest, when we hear the term strength training, we tend to associate it with getting
bulky and gaining muscle mass. It’s a common misconception and one that I, myself, was
guilty of. But what if I told you that strength training could do more than just give you those
superhero muscles you’ve been dreaming of? What if I said it could help you live longer and
healthier? Well, buckle up, folks, because today we’re talking about the amazing benefits that
strength training has for the most important muscle in your body, your heart.

Improved Blood Pressure:

It’s estimated that 1 in 4 adults worldwide, or approximately 1.13 billion people, have high
blood pressure or hypertension. This condition is responsible for an estimated 9.4 million
deaths annually. Those are some big and scary numbers!

But, the good news is that strength training can help lower blood pressure in those with
hypertension, as well as healthy adults. The benefits of strength training on blood pressure can
be seen in both the short and long term, with reductions observed after a single exercise
session and lasting benefits seen after several weeks or months of consistent training [2]. How
does it work? Well, the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, but it’s believed that
strength training can help improve blood vessel function, increase nitric oxide in the body
(which relaxes blood vessels), and reduce inflammation.

Reduced Levels of Bad Cholesterol in the Blood:

Elevated levels of LDL (low-density lipoprotein), also known as bad cholesterol, are strongly
associated with the risk of heart attack in both men and women worldwide [3] The
accumulation of LDL in the blood vessels carrying oxygen to the heart can block this essential
blood flow, leading to heart failure.

But, studies have shown that strength training can help reduce LDL levels. One of the ways in
which this happens is through an increase in muscle mass, which leads to greater uptake and
utilization of fats by the muscles. This process reduces blood levels of LDL, preventing it from
ever blocking those essential pipes supplying oxygen to your heart.

Reduced Risk of Cardiovascular Disease:

Heart disease is the leading cause of death globally, accounting for 31% of all deaths
worldwide [4]. However, research has shown that strength training can significantly reduce the
risk of developing cardiovascular disease. One study found that individuals who strength
trained at least twice a week had a 41% lower risk of developing heart disease than those who
did not strength train [5].

The reason for this is simple: strength training helps strengthen the heart muscle. Just like any
other muscle in the body, the heart can be trained to become stronger and more efficient at
pumping blood throughout the body. This means that the heart doesn’t have to work as hard to
circulate blood, which can reduce the risk of heart disease.

Improved Insulin Sensitivity:

Insulin is magic hormone that protects all of us from diabetes. Insulin sensitivity refers to how
effectively the body’s cells respond to insulin. When the body becomes insulin resistant, it
can’t effectively use the insulin it produces, leading to high blood sugar levels and an increased
risk of diabetes.

Research has shown that strength training can improve insulin sensitivity, reducing the risk of
developing type 2 diabetes (this is the one that most of us see out there)[6]. By building lean
muscle mass, the body becomes more efficient at using glucose for energy, which can lower
blood sugar levels and improve insulin sensitivity.

Other Benefits seldom talked about:

Now apart from all these amazing perks that I mentioned before, strength training can do a bit
more. It has been shown to improve bone density [7], reduce the risk of falls [8], improve
balance and stability [9], and reduce the risk of developing sarcopenia, which is the geeky way
of talking about a condition characterized by the loss of muscle mass and strength [10]. The
heart and the mind are very close so benefiting one helps the other as well. Strength training
can also improve mental health by reducing anxiety and depression symptoms [11] and
improving cognitive function [12].

So folks, strength training isn’t just for bodybuilders, fitness enthusiasts and Henry Cavill. It’s
an excellent way to improve heart health and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease, high
blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes. So, the next time you hit the gym, remember
that you’re not just building muscle; you’re also strengthening your heart, the most vital and all
geeks like myself will agree, the coolest muscle in your body.



By Muhammad Abdullah, MBBS
Date created: 2023-02-25