Any type of movement that makes your heart work harder than usual — brisk walking, dancing, or cycling — will benefit your heart health. But many people don’t realize that targeted exercises to strengthen muscles throughout your body may also help stave off heart disease.
“In the past, strong muscles were considered beneficial mainly from a functional standpoint — that is, they make tasks such as carrying groceries and doing laundry easier,” says Dr. I-Min Lee, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School who studies the role of physical activity in disease prevention. Those perks are particularly important as people age.
Muscle vs. fat
Now, there’s more interest in looking at how a higher muscle mass may lower the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease, says Dr. Lee. Muscle mass declines naturally with age, and most people replace lost muscle with fat. Muscle-building exercises can help counteract that trend.
Studies suggest that strength training may boost your metabolic rate (the rate at which your body converts energy stores into working energy) by up to 15%. You’ll burn more calories, even while you’re sitting or sleeping. One study found that healthy men who did 20 minutes of daily weight training had less of an age-related increase in abdominal fat (which is especially hard on the heart) compared with men who spent the same amount of time doing aerobic activities.