Not ready to leave your house? Virtual training available now!
Not ready to leave your house? Virtual training available now!
February 14, 2023

Strength Training and Cardiac Rehab

Heart disease represents the leading cause of death in the U.S. and worldwide for both men and women. One person dies every 34 seconds in the U.S. from cardiovascular disease. About one out of four of us will meet our demise from some sort of heart malady.

Understanding Heart Disease

Heart disease refers to a range of conditions which affect the heart, such as coronary artery disease, arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), congenital heart defects, and heart valve disease. The most common type of heart disease in the U.S., coronary artery disease, affects the flow of blood to the heart.

Coronary artery disease results from plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. Plaque comes from cholesterol deposits and other substances in the artery. Plaque buildup can cause arteries to narrow over time, which can partially or totally block the flow of blood, a process called atherosclerosis.

Many people don’t even suspect they have coronary artery disease until they experience a heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction. A heart attack happens when blood flow to the heart is severely reduced or blocked, causing some of the heart muscle to die due to lack of oxygen. This often happens when a piece of plaque breaks lose and forms a blood clot, which narrows the artery. In the worst-case scenario, the heart can’t pump enough blood or the heart’s rhythm is thrown off causing the person having the heart attack to die.

Signs of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain or discomfort that lasts for more than a few minutes then goes away and comes back. It feels like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, or fullness. The pain, caused by an oxygen-deprived heart muscle, can radiate to the left arm, jaw, back or abdomen.
  • Feeling weak, light-headed, or faint, often followed by breaking out in a cold sweat.
  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, or back.
  • Shortness of breath. 

People with diabetes can have damaged nerves that could make a heart attack painless or silent. A silent heart attack means very mild, or even no warning signs at all.

If you’re diabetic and you don’t feel quite right, you may want to have your doctor perform an electrocardiogram to measure your hearts electrical activity and blood test to assess possible heart muscle damage.

What To Do in The Event of a Heart Attack

If you notice symptoms of a heart attack in yourself or someone else, call 9-1-1 immediately. The sooner you get to the emergency room the better. If you know CPR and the person experiencing a heart attack is unconscious or not breathing, after calling 9-1-1, administer CPR until emergency medical professionals arrive.

Someone experiencing a heart attack may also benefit from taking aspirin, which thins the blood and nitroglycerine, which opens the artery and can help keep the heart attack from getting worse.

Risk Factors

Heart disease hasn’t always ranked as the leading killer in the U.S. In fact, at the beginning of the 20th century, heart disease was an uncommon cause of death. It barely existed in the medical records. But by the 1960s, heart disease accounted for the overwhelming majority of deaths due to radical changes in our lifestyle such as poor eating habits, physical inactivity, and smoking. These changes turned us into a nation of diabetes (suffered by 10% of Americans), obesity (42%), hypertension (47%), and high blood lipids (55%).

These risk factors for heart disease rarely exist alone. They all seem connected as a cluster of risk factors know as metabolic syndrome in which one risk factor usually leads to one or two more.

And these risk factors inflict more of us every year. A disturbing statistic from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services tells us that 35% of U.S. adults have pre-diabetes, which means they will likely receive a diagnosis of diabetes very soon if they don’t make some changes.

If you experience a heart attack, your heart can heal over time, but the damaged tissue will never become normal tissue. It will convert to scar tissue. Healthy heart muscle tissues will become stronger to compensate for the difference.

Cardiac Rehab & Strength Training

Doctors typically prescribe cardiac rehab after a heart attack or bypass surgery. The program usually involves supervised exercise on a treadmill 3 times a week for 12 weeks. Studies show that cardiac rehab decreases the chances you will die in the next 5 years following a heart attack or bypass surgery by 35%. Even with that success rate, only 1 in 4 cardiac patients participate in cardiac rehab. Several reasons could explain this, but I honestly believe most people don’t want to spend 3 days a week in a supervised exercise program in a hospital.

In 2017 researchers published a meta-analysis evaluating the effectiveness of resistance training on cardiovascular health in coronary artery disease patients. The meta-analysis looked at 34 studies which included a total of 1,940 participants. The study found that strength training improved aerobic fitness to a similar degree as aerobic training in coronary heart disease patients. In other words, strength training provided the same measurable cardiovascular improvements in patients with heart disease as walking on a treadmill.

The authors of the study state that strength training can provide cardiovascular improvements equivalent in magnitude to aerobic training, which may contribute to a reduced risk of mortality. Patients experienced the greatest overall effects when they combined strength training with walking, which is exactly what we recommend at Exercise Inc.

The Health Professionals Follow-Up study (a study that followed the health habits of 44,000 men from 1986 to 1998) reported a 23% reduction in the risk of fatal and non-fatal heart attacks in men who strength trained 30 minutes or more per week, whereas only 18% of men who walked 3.5 hours per week reduced their heart attack risk.

In spite if this evidence, most doctors are still reluctant to recommend strength training to heart disease patients. They typically state that it is just too strenuous or dangerous.

Well, this follow-up study revealed another caveat. Twenty of the studies indicated adverse events such as subsequent heart attacks that occurred during training. Those studies reported a total of 64 cardiovascular complications during training—63 occurred during aerobic training, and only one event occurred during strength training.

It looks like the doctors are concerned about the safety of the wrong type of training. Based on this study, strength training represents a much safer form of training for heart disease patients, especially as it relates to safety for the heart.

Bottom line—your heart experiences less stress from everything you do when you increase your strength. We’ve helped our clients improve their heart health in only 20 Minutes A Week for the past 19 years. Just check out some of these amazing success stories. Anyone who’s ever done our program quickly understands the cardiovascular aspect of high intensity strength training.

Stay Strong,

Bo Railey