Running on a treadmill is great, but weights might be even better when it comes to your heart.

Photo: Getty Images / Mireya Acierto

You might think that doing a lot of cardio, like going for a run or taking an indoor cycling class, will help you shed pounds. And yes, aerobic exercise definitely is important for raising your heart rate and burning calories during the workout, which can lead to weight loss. However, weight training, which is strength-based, might actually be better for you long term in protecting your heart. Not to mention, lifting is great for burning fat.

According to a new study in JAMA Cardiology, lifting weights could have greater benefits than cardio and high-intensity training. Among 50 participants, people were split into three groups for a 12-week duration: high-intensity interval endurance training, where they worked out 3 times a week for 45 minutes, resistance training, where they worked out 3 times a week for 45 minutes, or no exercise at all, which was the control group. They observed two types of fat: pericardial adipose tissue mass, which is fat around the heart, and epicardial adipose tissue mass, the fat on the heart's muscle tissue.

The results? Endurance and resistance training lowered epicardial fat by 32 and 24 percent, respectively, but only the weight training group showed a substantial reduction in pericardial fat.

Researchers found that resistance training burned fat stored in and around the heart at a faster rate than cardio. Build up of fat around the heart can lead to heart disease, so this is a huge benefit in promoting longevity and well being long term.

"We know from other studies that resistance training is a stronger stimulus for increased muscle mass and increased basal metabolism compared to endurance training," said Regitse Hojgaard Christensen, MD, the study's lead author and researcher at the Center of Inflammation and Metabolism at Copenhagen University Hospital, in an interview with Reuters. The weightlifting group did three to five sets of 10 exercises during each workout over the 12-week period using medium-sized weights. "This specific exercise intervention alone was effective in reducing both fat depots of the heart," she continued.

Bottom Line

The new research doesn't mean you should ditch endurance training and cardio. For one, the study was pretty small. And endurance workouts have lots of benefits. But adding in weight lifting, may be important for your heart. The researchers recommend doing both aerobic and resistance training to trim cardiac fat. The CDC recommends adults get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity activity per week. They also advise at least 2 days of strength training for additional health benefits.

The best thing to do is to combine both types of exercise into a well-rounded training plan, where you're lifting weights and doing cardio (you can even try a HIIT class, which integrates both together). Or split them up for separate days, looking to lift about three to four times a week. While weight-lifting can seem intimidating, you don't need a gym membership to get started. A pair of dumbbells (or even soup cans) might be all the equipment you need.