How weightlifting doesn't just help you gain muscle – it also helps your cardio

Sick of running? Weightlifting can improve your heart health, according to science

Woman doing a deadlift with a trap bar
(Image credit: Sergio Pedemonte/Unsplash)

If you're looking to improve your cardiovascular health, protect yourself against heart disease and lose some weight, your go-to might be an exercise bike, HIIT training or even simple road running.

Lots of different kinds of cardio exercises will do the job just fine – but if you don't enjoy lacing up your running shoes, resistance training (whether in the gym, or at home) will also do the trick, epecially when coupled with powders from this year's best Black Friday protein deals. 

Lifting weights for just one hour a week may help reduce risks of heart attacks or instances of heart disease by 40 to 70 percent, according to a study from Iowa State University. The researchers examined data of nearly 13,000 adults, looking for different health outcomes depending on the way people trained. 

Less than an hour of weekly resistance exercise (compared with no resistance exercise) was associated with a 29 percent lower risk of developing metabolic syndrome, a glut of symptoms including weight gain and hypertension, which increases risk of heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

Associate professor DC Lee, the study's lead author, said: “People may think they need to spend a lot of time lifting weights, but just two sets of bench presses that take less than 5 minutes could be effective.

Woman doing exercises with weights

(Image credit: Getty Images)

“The results are encouraging, but will people make weightlifting part of their lifestyle? Will they do it and stick with it? That’s the million-dollar question.”

Weightlifting may seem intimidating, but it has loads of benefits for your body, from increasing muscle to boosting the production of hormones such as testosterone, which ups bone density, heart health, muscle growth and libido. If you want to learn heavier lifts, amazing – check out our guides on how to do a barbell squat or deadlift with dumbbells, for example – but you can equally do resistance exercise at home with your body weight or a set of resistance bands.

Lee says "“Lifting any weight that increases resistance on your muscles is the key... My muscle doesn’t know the difference if I’m digging in the yard, carrying heavy shopping bags or lifting a dumbbell.”

Of course, lifting weights is only half the battle – even though improved heart health doesn't require more than an hour of lifting weights, it's still beneficial to eat healthy, swapping high GI, high-sugar carbohydrates for more whole foods and a good source of protein. In addition, it's probably a good idea to mix your workouts up with some HIIT or endurance exercise, such as cycling or running, every once in a while.

Matt Evans
Matt Evans

Matt Evans is an experienced health and fitness journalist and Channel Editor at Fit&Well. He's previously written for titles like Men's Health and Red Bull, and covers all things exercise and nutrition on the Fit&Well website. Matt originally discovered exercise through martial arts: he holds a black belt in Karate and remains a keen kickboxer and runner. His top fitness tip? Stretch.