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Much like the chicken and egg debate, the debate over cardio and weight training can get heated – both when it comes to heart health and weight loss or maintenance.
Most doctors and researchers agree with the World Health Organization and American Heart Association’s weekly physical activity recommendations, which include a mix of both:
But a growing body of research is proving that strength training can be even better for your heart than many types of cardio. The latest evidence comes from an Australian study published in Hypertension Research on Aug. 12. In addition to aerobic and dynamic resistance exercises (like lunges or biceps curls), static strength training – known as isometric resistance training (IRT) – can effectively lower blood pressure.
As a refresher, it’s important that we all have our blood pressure checked at least every two years, as hypertension (or a blood pressure of 130/80 mm Hg or higher by the AHA criteria) is one of the most common medical conditions in the United States. According to the latest data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 45% of adults in the US are diagnosed. The higher the blood pressure above normal, the greater the risk of a heart attack or stroke, the CDC adds.
Related: Try our Beginner’s Healthy High Blood Pressure Meal Plan
What is IRT exactly? It is a type of strength training in which the muscles are challenged with a force, but without changing the length. Remember: a plank pose, a seat against the wall, or a static lunge. As you may have noticed in these activity recommendations, IRT is not mentioned as part of the plan. This is likely because coaches over the past several decades feared that the static nature of the movements, especially if performed at high intensity, could cause blood pressure to rise too high during exercise (as the participant strained to hold the position for a long time to keep). .
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But University of New South Wales Sydney lead study authors Harrison Hansford and Matthew Jones, Ph.D., who are both accredited exercise physiologists, found in this study that IRT is more than safe for the heart. It is actually excellent at improving heart health.
“We found that the IRT was very safe and caused significant changes in blood pressure – almost as much as one would expect from antihypertensive drugs,” Jones told the UNSW Sydney Newsroom. “It is possible that we will see the same effects if we simply ask participants to make a fist and squeeze it at a certain intensity for the prescribed time.”
Since lack of time and fatigue are two of the most common reasons many of us say we can’t reach this level of exercise, Jones says this research is a promising potential solution. “The IRT is a time-efficient means of lowering blood pressure and only takes 12 minutes a day, two to three days a week, to achieve the effect found in our test,” he explains. Also, he says, “IRT could easily be done while attendees were watching TV from the comfort of their homes”.
Related: The Best Fitness Foods: What To Eat Before, During, And After Your Workout
Previous research had suggested that IRT could lower blood pressure, but this is the first to fully investigate the safety of IRT. And the researchers give both of them a big thumbs-up. “We also found that IRT caused improvements in other blood pressure measurements, including central blood pressure (the pressure in the largest artery of the heart, the aorta, and an important predictor of cardiovascular disease) and, to a lesser extent, ambulatory blood pressure ( average blood pressure over a 24-hour period), none of which have been previously checked, “says Jones.
While this is not to say that you can stop taking your high blood pressure medication right now – consult your doctor if you are being treated for high blood pressure – a balanced exercise program that includes cardio (walking, cycling, spinning), dynamic strength training, and IRT could be a recipe for success heart health and general wellbeing. Our 10-minute, no-strength home training plan includes a few IRT movements to help dip your toe into this heart-healthy option. Do you feel like a little more motivation? Check out how home training helped a woman get stronger than ever for less than $ 2 a month.