Strength Training for a Healthy Heart
Regular exercise is a critical part of staying healthy. People who are active live longer and feel better. But what form of exercise is best? The standard teaching has been 30 minutes per day, five days a week of cardiovascular training, and three days a week of strength training. However, there has been a recent breakthrough in training approaches that focus on strength training for cardiovascular health.
The function of the cardiovascular system is to pump oxygen and nutrient-rich blood throughout the body and to remove waste products like carbon dioxide. The heart is a powerful muscle that contracts, expands, and hypertrophies, as other muscles do when worked. As the heart gets stronger, blood pressure and heart rate go down because the heart gets more efficient and can pump out more blood per beat.
Strength training, often called resistance training, refers to exercises that require muscles to exert a force against some form of resistance. The most common form of strength training is lifting weights, e.g., free weights, machines, elastic bands, body weight, or any other form of resistance. These types of exercises are known for developing and toning muscles, helping to develop and maintain the integrity of bones, increasing metabolism by increasing lean muscle mass, building stronger connective tissue and greater joint stability, and decreasing body fat. Strength training is beneficial for everyone. It is especially beneficial as we grow older because muscle mass naturally diminishes with age, and strength training will help prevent this muscle loss and rebuild what may have been lost.
Strength training as a component of a cardiac rehabilitation program is well-recognized by clinicians; however, it is now just coming to the forefront of preventive medicine for its profound effect in reducing the risks of cardiovascular disease. There have been several research studies on the effect of high-intensity, short rest weight training and its effect on cardiovascular health and fitness. The findings are remarkable as strength training has not generally been thought to improve cardiovascular fitness. Aerobic activities that increase heart rate and make one breathe harder— walking, biking, and jogging—have typically been recommended for cardiovascular fitness. We are now learning that maximum increases in strength and cardiovascular fitness can be obtained from one type of exercise—strength training. Properly applied, strength training simultaneously engages both the muscular system and the cardiovascular system. Recommended intervals are three to five times per week for 20 to 30 minutes at a moderate intensity-level, or two to three times per week for 15 to 20 minutes at a high-intensity level.
The American Heart Association (AHA) says that for healthy adults, a regular program of weight training not only increases muscle strength and endurance, it also improves heart and lung function, enhances glucose metabolism, reduces coronary disease risk factors, and boosts well-being. When our muscles are stronger, there is less demand placed on the heart. This allows the lungs to process more oxygen with less effort, the heart to pump more blood with fewer beats, and the blood supply directed to your muscles to increase.
Strength training provides numerous health benefits. It can be very powerful in preventing and reducing the signs and symptoms of numerous diseases and chronic conditions such as obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, arthritis, and mild depression. Additionally, it can help individuals recover from and prevent injury, improve endurance, flexibility, stamina, balance, and coordination. The idea is simple: strength is good. According to the AHA, strength increases "functional capacity," which is the ability to perform daily activities. Being physically strong will decrease the strain that day-to-day tasks, such as lifting, place on the heart.
Prior to beginning any form of exercise program, it's important to see your physician for a complete physical examination to ensure you are healthy enough to begin an exercise regimen without risk. Share with them your health goals and exercise plan, and seek their recommendations, especially those related to nutrition and smoking cessation.
Remember: regular strength training does more than just build better, stronger muscles-it builds a better, stronger, healthier body.
Protein - The Ultimate Nutrient?
Is the protein component of an athlete’s diet the be all and end all or is it simply a lot of hot air? Although this appears quite a simple question, the protein debate still looms large and is shrouded in controversy.
Much of this uncertainty arises from cycles of opinion within the media, on the internet and from pseudo-scientists/nutritionists. It is no wonder that many exercisers are struggling to decide just how much protein is enough?
In recent years, scientists have come to a consensus on protein requirements via high quality, well-controlled studies. There is no denying that protein is an essential nutrient in the diet, especially in its pivotal role of building and repairing muscles but does this necessitate the consumption of protein powders, numerous chicken breasts, and raw eggs, by those undertaking strenuous exercise? While it is true that exercise induces the body to consume proteins at a faster rate, it is unclear whether excessively high protein diets offer any performance advantages. In fact, there may be disadvantages to this form of diet.
According to Dr. Michael Colgan, when excess protein foods break down, the amino acids are converted into carbon dioxide, water, and highly toxic ammonia. The ammonia is then turned into urea, which is transported to the kidneys. If you eat protein beyond the capacity of the kidneys to eliminate urea, then you could end up with painful swollen kidneys, or worse, blood poisoning.
Generally protein is the nutrient we need worry least about, as it appears in many of the foods we consume daily. While athletes do need more protein than sedentary individuals, one tablespoon of protein is generally enough to fulfill a day’s requirements. Here is a list of recommendations for protein consumption.
|Daily Protein Recommendations ||g/kg/day |
|Sedentary to low levels of activity - men and women ||0.8 -1.0 |
|Regular activity (>1hour/day) ||1.0 -1.2 |
|Moderate-high intensity endurance athletes ||1.2 -1.5 |
|Resistance athletes (strength and speed) ||1.2 -1.7 |
These are recommendations and should only be used as a guide. If taken literally, they produce a wide range of protein needs and it is not always easy to categorize athletes into strength or endurance groups. Other issues need to be considered, i.e. one’s sport, the level of training, physical size and body composition and the quality of the current diet, which is where the expertise of a Registered Dietician/Nutritionist should be sought.
Low protein intake, on the other hand, can lead to loss of strength and power or a failure to make optimal gains from training. Although rare, some athletes may have diets which are too low in protein. Some individuals who may be susceptible to protein deficiency are:
- Low calorie dieters or fussy eaters
- Strict vegetarians
- Fad dieters
- Individuals with allergies/food intolerances
- Individuals with eating disorders or disordered eating problems
Adhering to the daily recommendations for protein consumption, however, will help to sustain proper protein levels.
As Ron Maughan, professor at the University of Aberdeen said, "The carbohydrate/protein controversy rages but decades of research show -- and muscles insist -- that carbohydrates are truly the active body's preferred source of energy. The single most important factor for muscle fuel and energy replacement is the amount of carbohydrates consumed and it's best to take in your carbohydrates as soon as possible after training." Many individuals search for that magic pill to achieve the competitive edge and often look to supplements or special combinations of nutrients. While protein plays a crucial role in recovery from training and competition, and is a key nutrient in the diet, it is not the magic potion. The common-sense approach to improving performance, backed by copious research, is to rely on a sound, fundamental program that stresses hydration and nutrition as a complement to an effective training regimen.