Strength vs. Function–Exercise and Heart Disease

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Let’s start at the beginning: Exercise is good for you.

A healthy heart derives from several influences, including diet and stress reduction. But exercise holds a special place in the minds of heart specialists and primary care practitioners because it is a proactive effort which helps maintain a healthy heart and is often enjoyable in and of itself.

But there are limits to what exercise can do, and there are obvious times when exercise is not a prescribed action in heart treatment (as opposed to prevention).

There are numerous forms of exercise which doctors prescribe to patients: team or individual competitive sports, distance running, and simple walking are examples. For that matter, gardening is considered an exercise as well, since it promotes physical movement. 

But for the purposes of this conversation, let’s consider two forms of exercise which are not team-oriented or competitive. They are designed for other purposes. They are traditional strength training and functional strength training.

Here are some considerations about the type of strength training you undertake with an eye toward how it impacts heart health.


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Traditional strength training

Traditional strength training is body-building. It’s the workouts you see in commercials for private gyms. It is the classic exercise of repeatedly lifting as much weight as you can. Traditional strength training is built on the theory of resistance; lifting a weight against the pull of gravity until you can no longer do so.

Then, doing it again.

Depending on the types of weights used and the manner of lifting employed, traditional strength training can benefit individual muscles or sets of muscles. With proper instruction, traditional strength training can be directed at weaker muscles or at muscles required for certain job performance. 

The role traditional strength training plays in heart health is significant, but hours of weight lifting are not required for traditional strength training to be beneficial to the human heart. The American Heart Association suggests as little as five or 10-minutes of resistance weight training to provide consistent or improved heart function. That seemingly short period of time can build some muscle strength but more importantly increases a person’s metabolic rate.

For many people, traditional strength training has one drawback: It’s boring. It’s repetitive, and it’s difficult. It can also be dangerous if not performed properly or if a person attempts to lift more weight or do more repetitions than would be beneficial.


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Functional strength training

It’s probably a quirk of the English language, but the first three letters of the word “functional” spell the word “fun”. That actually plays a role in the prescription of functional strength training over traditional strength training.

Functional strength training is often more full-body exercising. A good example is planking, the exercise which resembles holding a push-up for a designated period of time. Lifting kettlebells, performing lunges, or even sit-ups are popular examples of functional strength training. Each of those exercises have variations which create more movement, more caloric burn and more heart benefits. 

Functional strength training has benefits over traditional strength training. One, due to the physical movement involved, it increases heart activity, which is a good thing for a healthy heart. Functional strength training exercises different muscle groups from, well, neck to toe, and relates more directly to the activities in daily life. 

Because of its metabolic influences, functional strength training produces more dopamine, the neurotransmitter that stimulates the brain and pleasure centers. This release promotes focus and encourages further activity. 

Simply put, functional strength training has an effect beyond the actual exercise, because it is more likely to play a role in how the rest of the day goes after the workout.

Choosing between two good alternatives

Generally speaking, exercise increases blood flow and lowers blood pressure, which in turn lowers the risk of heart disease. Functional strength training is more likely to be beneficial from a cardiac standpoint because it calls for more physical movement and activity. It is also more likely to promote a more active lifestyle at the conclusion of the workout.

But every person is different and the exercise needs of each individual is based upon what that individual is trying to accomplish. A conversation with us at Healthy Potentials LLC can point you in the direction that best suits your needs, your body and your lifestyle.