Researchers in Denmark found that resistance training burned fat stored in the heart—which, if left unchecked, could lead to heart disease—at a far higher rate than cardio. In other words, that bench press might save you a trip to the cardiologist.
For the study, 50 participants were randomly assigned a 12-week endurance or resistance-training regimen (both groups worked out three times a week for 45 minutes) and their results were compared to people who didn’t exercise at all.
The researchers looked at two types of fat: pericardial adipose tissue mass, fat surrounding the heart, and epicardial adipose tissue mass, fat found on the heart’s muscle tissue. While aerobic exercise and resistance training reduced epicardial fat by 32 and 24 percent, respectively, only weightlifting had a significant effect on pericardial fat.
That type of fat dropped by 31 percent when compared with the no-exercise group, researchers said. Regitse Hojgaard Christensen, MD, the study’s lead author and a researcher at the Center of Inflammation and Metabolism at Copenhagen University Hospital, told Reuters this is probably because weightlifting helps people burn more calories, compared to running on a treadmill or hitting the StairMaster.
“We know from other studies that resistance training is a stronger stimulus for increased muscle mass and increased basal metabolism compared to endurance training,” she said.
She explained that the weightlifting group performed three to five sets of 10 exercises during each session with medium weights. “This specific exercise intervention alone was effective in reducing both fat depots of the heart,” she told Reuters.
Keeping pericardial fat low is vital to good heart health, as studies have found that too much of it could lead to an irregular and rapid heart rate, which could cause poor blood flow.
These findings don’t give you an excuse to ditch cardio altogether, though. The researchers suggested using both aerobic and resistance training to reduce cardiac fat.