Aerobics and Resistance Training
are Beneficial for Your Heart?

By: John Sawdon Director of Education & Special Projects, Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada

Benefits of Aerobic Training

Aerobic activity uses your heart and lungs for a long period. It helps your heart use oxygen better and improves blood flow. Aerobic literally means `relating to, involving or requiring free oxygen` (1) and refers to the use of oxygen to adequately meet energy demands during exercise via aerobic metabolism. Among the benefits of doing regular aerobic exercise are:

  • Strengthening the muscles involved in respiration to facilitate the flow of air in and out of the lungs
  • Strengthening and enlarging the heart muscle to improve pumping efficiency and reduce the resting heart rate, known as aerobic conditioning
  • Improving circulation efficiency and reducing blood pressure
  • Increasing the total number of red blood cells in the body, facilitating transport of oxygen
  • Improved mental health, including reducing stress and lowering the incidence of depression as well as increased cognitive capacity
  • Reducing the risk of diabetes. One meta analysis has shown from multiple collected studies that aerobic exercise does help to lower A1c levels for type 2 diabetes (2).
  • Aerobic exercise reduces the risk of death from cardiovascular problems
  • High impact aerobic activities (such as jogging or using a skipping rope) can stimulate bone growth, as well as reduce the risk of osteoporosis for men and women.
  • Aerobic exercise also creates performance benefits including increased storage of energy molecules such as fats and carbohydrates for muscles, allowing for increased endurance
  • Neurobiological effects: improvements in brain structural connections and increased gray matter density, new neuronal growth, improved cognitive function (cognitive control and various forms of memory) and improvement and maintenance of mental health.

Examples of Aerobic Activities

Stair Climbing; Elliptical Trainer; Indoor Rower; Stair-Master; Stationary Bicycle; Treadmill

Walking; Cycling; Running; Cross Country Skiing; Cross Country Running; Urban Poling; Inline skating; rowing

Indoor or Outdoor
Swimming; Kickboxing; Skipping Rope or Jump Rope; Circuit Training; Jumping Jacks; Water Aerobic/Aquatics

What is Resistance Training?
Resistance training is any exercise that causes the muscles to contract against an external resistance with the expectation of increases in strength, tone, mass and or endurance. When you do resistance training repeatedly and consistently, your muscles become stronger.(3)

A well-rounded fitness program includes strength training to improve joint function, bone density, muscle, tendon and ligament strength as well as aerobic exercise to improve your heart and lung fitness, as well as flexibility and balance exercises to prevent falls. Exercise is Medicine, Heart Wise Exercise Program, Public Health of Canada and Canadian Physical Activity Guidelines recommends that adults do muscle strengthening at least twice a week. Resistance training also assists in the maintenance of basal metabolic rate (to complement aerobic training for weight control), promotes independence, and helps to prevent falls in the elderly. Resistance training is beneficial for improving the function of most cardiac, frail, and elderly patients who benefit substantially from both upper and lower body exercise.(4)

Examples of Resistance Training
There are many examples of resistance training that you can do at home or at the gym with some supervision as follows:

  • Free weights- this can include dumbbells or barbells. At home you could use cans or milk/water jugs with handles
  • Weight machines- Normally found at the gym, most devices have adjustable seats with handles attached to weights or hydraulics
  • Medicine balls- weighted balls
  • Resistance bands – like giant rubber bands- these create resistance when stretched. They are portable and can be adapted to most workouts. The bands provide continuous resistance throughout a movement and can be used standing, lying on the floor or on a chair.
  • Your own body weight - ideally used for squats, push-ups and chin-ups.

Benefits of Resistance training

  • Improved muscle tone and strength. It helps with flexibility, balance and coordination which contributes to independence as we age
  • Weight management and increased muscle to fat ratio- as you gain muscle your body burns more fat when at rest
  • Greater stamina, will not tire as easily
  • Prevention and control of chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, arthritis, back pain, depression, and obesity
  • Pain management
  • Improved posture
  • Decreased risk of injury
  • Increased bone density and strength and reduced risk of osteoporosis
  • Improved sense of well being- resistance training may boost your self-confidence, improve your body image and your mood
  • A better nights sleep
  • Enhanced ability to perform daily tasks(5)

Summary: This is the second in a three part series that explores the benefits of exercise on cardiovascular disease. We encourage you to seriously consider a fitness program. If you are new to this, see your family Doctor first and ask whether there are any limitations to exercising. If not you might begin with walking and increase this to three days a week along with one or two days of resistance training. Our next article will explore how long we should exercise and the intensity level we should strive for.


  1. Aerobic Exercise Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/aerobic_exercise
  2. Snowling, NJ & Hopkins W.G. (2006) Effects of Different Modes of Exercise Training on Glucose Control and Risk Factors for Complications in Type 2 Diabetic patients. A meta-analysis Diabetes Care (11) 518- 2527 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/obr.12317/abstract:jsession=B85FCAC56C8EBO
  3. Resistance-Training http://emedicinehealth.com/strength_training/page4_em.htm
  4. Resistance exercise in Individuals with and without Cardiovascular Disease ; Circulation 2000; 101: 828-833 http://circ.ahajournals.org/content/101/7/828.full
  5. Better Health Resistance Training http://betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/healthyliving/resistance-training-health-benefits

The articles, on the Cardiac Health Foundation of Canada website, are presented with the understanding that the Foundation is providing information only and not rendering medical advice. Please check with your family physician, specialist or health care professional before implementing any of the ideas expressed in these articles.