Tag Archives: cardiovascular

Resistance and Aerobic Training: New research says both together is better for heart health

Heart disease is the most common cause of death in older adults.  Heart disease kills about 600,000 Americans annually.  Heart disease is the most common cause of death for women.  It is more common than breast cancer, which tends to get more attention.  Many women who suffer heart attacks do not have previous signs of symptoms (approximately 2/3rds will have a sudden heart attack).  Major risk factors for heart disease are:

  1. High blood pressure
  2. Obesity
  3. Poor blood lipid profile (dyslipidemia)
  4. Inactivity
Coconut oil and CrossFit Masters
CrossFit Masters Athletes combine aerobic and resistance training all the time.

An obese individual can expect to lose 6-7 years of life.  This can matter a lot to the individual, but also to his or her family, who may lose that person’s love, support and companionship.  Exercise reduces all four of the major risk factors for heart disease.  The Centers for Disease Control (CDC), The American College of Sports Medicine and the American Heart Association all recommend 20-30 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous exercise every day for adults.

Resistance training is also recommended, but with an eye to improving functional fitness into old age.   Little research has been done on the benefits of resistance training as a means of improving cardiovascular health.

Exercise:  resistance training and aerobic training reduced risk of heart disease

A new study from the Research Center in Sports Science, Health Sciences and Human Development and the Research Center in Physical Activity, Health and Leisure, Faculty of Sport and the University Porto, in Porto, Portugal examined the effects of aerobic training alone vs. aerobic and resistance training together and got some interesting results.  Here are some of the study details:

  • Subjects were 59 older men
  • Men were divided into three groups: Aerobic training, aerobic and resistance training or no training.
  • None of the men had cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure or was severely overweight
  • Men had no previous history of exercise training or recreational sports

The Training Programs lasted 32 weeks:

  • Aerobic Training Group: ran or did brisk walks two days a week and swimming training 1 day a week at levels that were perceived by participants as “moderate intensity”.  Each training session included a 10 minute warm up, 3 sets of 15-20 rep body weight exercises and a five minute cool down with stretching.  Subjects did agility exercises in the pool for 10 minutes each session.  Agility exercises included water volley-ball and water polo.  Sounds like a fun program.
  • Resistance and Aerobic Training Group:  did the same exercises as the Aerobic Training group except that one of the dry-land aerobic sessions was replaced with resistance training.  Resistance training consisted of 65% of one rep max with three sets of 8-10 reps of bench press, leg press, lateral pull-down, leg exension, military press, leg curl and arm curl.  Subjects also worked on their abs and backs.
  • Control Group: carried on with normal life


No improvements in hypertension , obesity or dyslipidemia were seen in the Aerobic Training Group.  Disappointing.   Maybe a longer training period was needed.  Hard to say.  Improvements were observed in the Resistance and Aerobic Training Group.  Improvements were seen in:

  • Hypertension
  • Dyslipidemia


 Eye Pood Kettlebell Shirt
Eye Pood Kettlebell Shirt by WODMASTERS

Why didn’t the aerobic training group show improvements?  Perhaps the exercise program wasn’t intense enough.  Maybe improvements would have been seen if the exercise program had lasted longer.  Maybe it is important to increase the intensity beyond moderate, especially over time.   Perhaps the resistance training program provided more aerobic training.  8-10 reps may be like short sprints for the cardio-vascular system. Short bouts of intense exercise can be very effective (See High Intensity Impact Training).  More research is needed, but for what we have so far it looks like combining both is better than just aerobic training alone.  If you do crossfit you are doing this already.


Sousa N, Mendes R, Abrantes C, Sampaio J, & Oliveira J (2013). Long-term effects of aerobic training versus combined aerobic and resistance training in modifying cardiovascular disease risk factors in healthy elderly men. Geriatrics & gerontology international, 13 (4), 928-35 PMID: 23441809

Hiking: Eccentric Exercise That's Not That Crazy.

Eccentric Exercise is a hot research topic among exercise physiologists.   Most research has focused on concentric exercise.  As often happens, the eccentric is readily overlooked.  Concentric exercise is exercise that involves muscle fiber shortening.  During eccentric exercise muscles are lengthening under stress.   Hiking is great exercise in part because it involves many different types of stresses.  If you are in mountainous terrain it includes both concentric and eccentric exercise.   Hiking (or running) uphill is concentric exercise, while moving downhill is eccentric.Uphill tends to burn more calories than downhill, but it looks like downhill hiking provides special benefits on its own.

Hiking Eccentric Exercise
A Hiker Prepares Mentally for a bout of Eccentric Exercise

Testing Up Hill (Concentric) and Down Hill (Eccentric Exercise) Hiking.

Researchers in Austria and Lichtenstein have been looking at the benefits of hiking down hill.   The study group has also been looking at ways for people to exercise more easily when they either do not have time or are just not interested in doing it.  The studies used two groups of people.  One group hiked only uphill, and the other hiked only down hill.  Hiking only uphill or only downhill may be problematic for most people.  For the study, a cable car was used to transport hikers in the up group down.  And the down group up.  Blood samples were collected before the start of the hiking procedure and afterward.  Hikers hiked in one direction for two months and then switched to the other directions.


Hiking results and findings.

hiking uphill concentric exercise
A hiker rests above 15,000 feet after a little too much concentric exercise and not enough oxygen

Hiking uphill and downhill both improved blood measures of total cholesterol, low-density lippoprotein cholesterole (LDL), apolipproteinB/A1 ratios (by about 11%), insulin resistance and reduced levels of C-reactive protein by ~30%.  Hiking uphill burns more energy.  Hiking uphill requires about 4x as much energy as hiking downhill.

Still, it is nice to know that walking downhill is so healthy.  I find down-hill hiking stresses my knees and toes.  However if you are one of those people who enjoys the downhills don’t worry too much if you hitch rides on cable cars.  Or mules.  Or whatever else is available.  Perhaps this research will result in the development of a new type of fitness equipment: A Stair Descender.

Eccentric exercise is the type of exercise stressor that leads to muscle soreness.  And delayed-onset muscle soreness (DOMS).  But there is increasing evidence that eccentric exercise is more effective for improving muscle strength.


If you are looking for traditional hiking or eccentric exercise options and ideas take a look at:

Zeppetzauer M, Drexel H, Vonbank A, Rein P, Aczel S, & Saely CH (2013). Eccentric endurance exercise economically improves metabolic and inflammatory risk factors. European journal of preventive cardiology, 20 (4), 577-84 PMID: 22505055
Drexel H, Saely CH, Langer P, Loruenser G, Marte T, Risch L, Hoefle G, & Aczel S (2008). Metabolic and anti-inflammatory benefits of eccentric endurance exercise – a pilot study. European journal of clinical investigation, 38 (4), 218-26 PMID: 18339002

Omega-6 fatty acids don't seem to be bad for your heart after all.

Omega-6 fatty acids have received a lot of bad press lately. A lot of people on the Paleo Diet have been told to minimize Omega-6 fatty acids. Many have been told that it is important that they should have an omega-6 fatty acid to omega-3 fatty acid ratio of 1:1 or 4:1. There is a lot we don’t know about fats and health. Or about fats and diet. Or about fats and biochemistry. There is a lot of interesting work being done. And a lot of great papers coming out. Its exciting to watch so many new bits of information floating up to the surface. But we don’t know everything. And we probably don’t even know much. This means it is way too early to declare “truths” about dietary fats.

omega-6 fatty acids and health discussion
CrossFit Trainer talks about nutrition and omega-6 fatty acids

Omega-6 fatty acids do not increase risk of heart failure.

A recent paper published in the American Journal of  Clinical Nutrition found that high levels of omega-6 fatty acids did not increase risk of heart failure.  At least not in older doctors.  High levels of omega-6 fatty acids were actually associated with reduced risk of heart failure.  Other studies on Omega-6 fatty acids have been mixed.  Some show that Omega-6 fatty acids increase risks.  Others show that they don’t.  Or that they are protective.   At present, there is no need to get anal about omega-6 and omega-3 ratios.   Omega-3 fatty acids seem to be pretty good for you.  But even these can be over done.  If you indulge in large amounts of fish oil supplements, you can have problems with leaky cell membranes.  And bleeding.  And maybe stroke.  So don’t over do it or go nuts with supplements.
Petrone AB, Weir N, Hanson NQ, Glynn R, Tsai MY, Gaziano JM, & Djoussé L (2013). Omega-6 fatty acids and risk of heart failure in the Physicians’ Health Study. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 97 (1), 66-71 PMID: 23193008

Ramsden, C., Hibbeln, J., Majchrzak, S., & Davis, J. (2010). n-6 Fatty acid-specific and mixed polyunsaturate dietary interventions have different effects on CHD risk: a meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials British Journal of Nutrition, 104 (11), 1586-1600 DOI: 10.1017/S0007114510004010

Masters CrossFit: Does type of workout matter? Is CrossFit, endurance or weight training best?

There are many benefits from fitness.  And many reasons why people enjoy (or subject themselves to) CrossFit Workouts.   Staying in shape.  Looking good.  Masochistic tendencies.  However, on a deeper level regular exercise reduces risk of cancer, diabetes and heart disease.

Current research indicates Fitness may protect us from free radicals.   Free-radicals are major factors in development of disease.  Diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease are all conditions where free-radicals are thought to be involved.  Free radicals are oxidizers.  They are molecules that have lost an electron.  These pose problems because they are very reactive.  They grab electrons from other molecules.  Thus “oxidizing” them. They stress cells.  Throw wrenches in the works.  This includes wrench throwing into your DNA.  Imagine a CrossFit workout where someone loses a plate in the middle of a crowded box.   Full of people doing Fran without collars.

Damaged DNA can result in cancer.  Or birth defects.  Free radicals also  damage tissues and organs by damaging cells and increasing inflammation. For example, they can damage pancreatic beta cells and increase risk of diabetes.

What are anti-oxidants?  How do fitness and risk come into play?

Anti-oxidants are agents that protect us from free-radicals.  They neutralize them.  Having enough anti-oxidants reduces risk of chronic disease  Normally we think of anti-oxidants as something we get from vegetables.  Or fruit.  Or supplements.  However, exercise seems to be involved too.

Exercise, anti-Oxidants, Fitness and Risk

Exercise causes a number of changes.    These changes play into the free-radical game.   They are adaptions to the stress of exercise.  When people are getting in shape free radical production increases.   Your body suffers inflammation.  And aches and pains.   This is often seen after a CrossFit Workout.  And in the days following a CrossFit workout.   Especially when people are first getting started.  This is very much like what happens when you get sick with a fever.  This may be why getting in shape sucks so much.   When you are getting in shape (or pushing yourself to a higher level) your body produces more free-radicals.  But is not ready to handle them.  Adaptation to exercise includes increasing production of anti-oxidants.  Once you have adapted you will be producing enough anti-oxidants to protect from free radicals from increased exercise.  You will also have increased protection from other sources of free-radicals.

Does type of workout matter? Is CrossFit, endurance or weight training best?

Animal testing indicates that endurance exercise works best for protection from inflammation and free radicals.  The animals tested were rats.  They were subjected to endurance training, resistance training and combination training.  Hard to visualize. Hopefully more research will be done in this area.   And we will get a better picture of what is optimal for humans.  Weight training (resistance exercise) remains important.  And CrossFit exercises (and high intensity interval training) show very promising results on other aspects of health and fitness.  It seems likely that adaptation to these forms of exercise will produce results similar to endurance training.

References for further reading.

de Lemos ET, Oliveira J, Pinheiro JP, & Reis F (2012). Regular physical exercise as a strategy to improve antioxidant and anti-inflammatory status: benefits in type 2 diabetes mellitus. Oxidative medicine and cellular longevity, 2012 PMID: 22928086

de Oliveira VN, Bessa A, Jorge ML, Oliveira RJ, de Mello MT, De Agostini GG, Jorge PT, & Espindola FS (2012). The effect of different training programs on antioxidant status, oxidative stress, and metabolic control in type 2 diabetes. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme, 37 (2), 334-44 PMID: 22458821