To improve your heart health health many people think they should just be doing cardio workouts and then a strength training workout to build muscle. Cardiovascular training is important and has many heart-health benefits but strength training can also improve your heart health.

“Strength training often gets overlooked for its importance in improving cardiovascular health, but it can be a valuable addition in reducing the risk of heart disease,” says Dr. Timothy Miller, a sports medicine physician at Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center. In fact, research suggests that when it comes to improving certain markers of heart health, strength training is just as good – if not better – than cardio.

Four major benefits of strength training that translate into a happier, healthier heart are:

  1. Better Blood Pressure – Research out of Appalachian State University shows that moderate-intensity strength training can significantly lower blood pressure. That’s true both in the short term – immediately after exercise – and throughout the years, explains researcher and professor of cardiovascular exercise science Scott Collier. This blood pressure benefit may be even stronger in hypertensive women than in men, with Collier’s research showing that strength training is superior to cardiovascular exercise in lowering their blood pressure.
  2. Lower Cholesterol and Triglyceride Levels – Fatty substances that travel in the blood, both cholesterol and triglycerides can clog arteries, contributing to heart attacks and strokes when their levels get too high. However, just like cardiovascular exercise, strength training stands to lower them, explains Dr.Haitham Ahmed, a staff cardiologist at the Cleveland Clinic.
  3. Less Fat Around the Heart – Often called “belly fat,” visceral fat sits in the abdominal cavity in and around the body’s internal organs, including the heart. Recent research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology shows that excess visceral fat carries an increased risk of heart disease – no matter what your weight. In the fight against visceral fat, strength training is key. In one 2015 Obesity study of 10,500 men, those who strength trained for 20 minutes per day gained less age-related visceral fat over a period of 12 years compared to those who spent the same amount of time engaged in cardiovascular activity. “By increasing lean body mass, or muscle, strength training speeds up the body’s metabolic rate,” Miller explains. “That has a secondary effect of decreasing fatty tissue in the midsection and around the heart.”
  4. Sounder Sleep – “With poor sleep, cardiovascular health is one of the first things to go,” says Collier, explaining that lack of sleep triggers increased inflammation that causes cellular damage to the cardiovascular system. However, Collier’s research, published in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, shows that performing resistance exercise, especially in the evening, can help improve your sleep.

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K. Aleisha Fetters, MS, CSCS , is a freelance Health & Wellness reporter at U.S. News;