Today’s blog was born out of the most personal of places: Last month, I lost my father suddenly, due to a heart attack. I’m absolutely devastated. He was my best friend.
That this was unexpected and out of nowhere, of course, compounds the shock and pain for me and my family. And that his cause of death relates so closely to my mission as a personal trainer is something that I can’t stop thinking about.
As I slowly learn to move forward alongside my grief, I’m driven to do what I’ve always done with my personal journey: To communicate my struggles, to connect them to my knowledge and my training, to draw strength from these experiences, and to share all of this with women who are also looking for strength, inspiration and community.
Cardio versus Strength Training for Heart Health
Many people link cardio exercise with cardiac health. After all, “cardiovascular” is at the heart (so to speak) of these terms.
However, while we’re following that logic, just remember that your heart is a substantial muscle. In fact, your heart muscle is strong enough to perform small movements that are so powerful they can force blood all the way to the farthest reaches of your body—and back to the heart again.
Imagine using one hand to squeeze a Capri Sun so hard that the liquid flowed upward through a one-mile-long straw.
Now remember that your body contains 60,000 miles of blood vessels.
What does “Heart Health” Mean?
There are a few aspects to heart health. The heart itself has to be strong, but so too do the blood vessels, ie the veins and arteries. “Cardiovascular” means “heart and vessels.”
Let’s stick with the straw metaphor: If your straw is partially clogged, you have to squeeze harder to get liquid through it.
Same goes for your cardiovascular system: When your blood vessels get clogged with fat (often in the form of waxy, sticky, fatty plaque), your heart has to work to force the blood through. This clogging and hardening is literally what’s happening with cardiovascular disease, or artherosclerosis.
Not only does this condition raise your blood pressure and decrease your cardiovascular system’s ability to delivery oxygen and nutrients; clogged arteries tax your heart and make it work harder, constantly, which can lead to long-term problems with the muscle itself.
On top of that, like any other muscle in your body, your heart itself relies on its own blood vessels to deliver the oxygen and nutrients it needs to keep doing its job. When your heart’s blood vessels are clogged, the heart muscle is immediately compromised, and a heart attack is close at hand.
And often, frighteningly enough, these blockages occur with no symptoms.
In fact, sometimes the very first symptom of cardiovascular disease is a deadly heart attack.
Why is Improving Women’s Heart Health So Important?
My father’s memory will forever be in my heart, but women’s health remains our focus at Lana’s. This covers everything from functional fitness for everyday freedom independence; to strength and balance for aging powerfully and safely; to weight control, personal belonging, and mental wellbeing—and often all of these aspects in a single workout. Cardiovascular health remains at the core of these goals, as well. Here’s why.
Cardiovascular disease is the single biggest cause of death for women in the United States. One-third of American women’s deaths are due to heart health. Cardiovascular disease kills more women than all forms of cancer combined.
We have (rightfully) made mammograms and OB/GYN annuals parts of our health routine. So, too, should we be prioritizing our hearts.
How Does Weight Training Improve Heart Health?
The key to fighting cardiovascular disease is twofold: strong muscles and clear blood vessels.
So how do we reduce artery-clogging body fat and build lean muscle mass? Weight training. These are the exact core benefits of weight training that we’re always preaching.
Among the many heart-healthy benefits of building muscle? More lean muscle mass means that people who strength train burn more calories in a day than people who just do cardio. Because that added muscle will burn calories even at rest. Cardio is only cardio while you’re doing it.
Plus, that additional muscle mass actually provides a welcome destination for all that blood your healthy heart pumps. This keeps your heart happy, your circulation system running smoothly, and your blood pressure healthy.
Is Weight Training Recommended for Improving Women’s Heart Health?
You don’t have to take our word for it: In the last few years, weight training has become among the primary recommended activities for heart health. And as of right now, weightlifting has begun to surpass cardio as the most important heart-healthy exercise.
According to a 2020 Washington Post headline: “Cardio isn’t enough. For a healthy heart, add resistance training.”
For My Father
My father’s death has left me heartbroken. But as of right now, one of the best ways I know to find comfort is by helping other people keep their hearts healthy. I’m finding strength by continuing this mission in his honor.