What’s Better for Your Heart Health: Aerobic Exercise or Resistance Training?

Here’s which type of exercise helps eliminate abdominal fat, which is tied to a lower risk of heart attack and stroke.

  • According to a review published in the journal Advances in Nutrition, combining aerobic exercise and strength training can help decrease abdominal fat.
  • Having excess abdominal fat can increase your risk of health issues such as heart attack and stroke.

If you ask a trainer how to lose fat, some swear by strength training, while others may suggest an aerobic plan like running. Fortunately, there’s no need to pick a side: New research concludes that both kinds of workouts work, especially if they join forces.

review published in the journal Advances in Nutrition looked at 43 studies focusing on training styles and their effects. Researchers found that although aerobic exercise tends to produce slightly greater efficacy in decreasing abdominal fat, the biggest change comes when it is combined with resistance training.

There’s an important reason to knock down fat in this particular area: cardiovascular health. For example, one study of Korean adults found those with normal body mass index had more cardiovascular risk factors if they carried excess abdominal obesity.

Another study, published earlier this year, noted that excess abdominal fat can risk of repeat heart attacks and strokes for those who’ve already had one of those incidents. In that research, nearly 23,000 people were followed for about four years after their cardiac event, and those with higher belly fat amounts showed significantly more incidence of experiencing another event.

That study’s lead author, Hanieh Mohammadi, M.D., a doctor in the department of clinical sciences and education at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden, told Runner’s World that a healthy waist circumference may be more important for preventing future heart attacks and stroke than medications like statins.

That’s because abdominal obesity is indicative of visceral fat, the kind that wraps around your organs and can have negative effects on blood pressure, cholesterol, and insulin resistance (when your cells stop responding to the hormone insulin). But even the stuff just below the surface—called subcutaneous abdominal fat—has been known to increase levels of low-grade inflammation that can raise risks of diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and some cancers.

“If you want better heart health, focus on your belly fat, if that’s an issue for you,” she said. “Even if you’re already on meds for cardiovascular health, that’s not enough to lower risk if abdominal obesity is a factor. Healthy eating and regular exercise can help.”

High-intensity workouts (which are comprised of short, hard bouts of exercise broken up by brief rest periods) that combine cardio and strength—such as a speed workout with some strength exercises mixed in when you’re not running—are great to help burn fat.

Best of all, the recent study suggests it doesn’t take much loss to see a benefit. The researchers found that a loss of just 5 to 10 percent of body weight, especially if it lowers abdominal fat, can lower health risks.

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