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I’m sure by now you’ve heard that February is Heart Month. Merritt Clubs is offering many programs and classes throughout the month that support heart health and the American Heart Association. No matter your level of activity, by exercising just a couple of days during the week, you are already taking important steps to fight heart disease.

Cardiovascular disease is often referred to as the silent killer, taking the lives of about one million Americans every year. This equals approximately 1 in every 4 deaths. Why does this happen? Unlike cancer or lung disease, heart disease doesn’t display telltale symptoms. And many individuals who don’t have their cholesterol or blood pressure checked on a regular basis succumb to a heart attack without ever realizing they had a problem.

Being physically active is a major step towards good heart health. In fact, physical activity is one of the most effective tools for strengthening the heart muscle, keeping weight under control, and preventing artery damage due to high cholesterol, high blood sugar, and high blood pressure. And all of these can lead to heart attack or stroke.

According to the American Journal of Cardiology, getting your cardio in is the most efficient form of exercise for improving heart health. Or is it? According to Scott Collier, Ph.D., professor of cardiovascular exercise science at Appalachian State University, all movement is actually cardiovascular with “every strength move and stretch increasing the workload on your heart, lungs, veins, arteries, and entire cardiovascular system.” Dr. Collier adds that non-aerobic forms of exercise can actually improve heart health in ways that cardio can’t.

So how did cardio become the king of heart health? Typically, cardio exercise uses oxygen to burn carbs and fat as your main fuel source. Examples of this include cycling, running, walking, dancing in Zumba class, or any other type of endurance activity that you maintain for more than a few minutes. These types of workouts work because they build up the body’s ability to use oxygen and are fantastic for the heart because they build up the body’s capacity to use oxygen. With each cardio workout, your heart gets better at sending blood and oxygen to the muscles. This means your heart doesn’t have to work as hard to power you through your day. Resting heart rate will slow and endurance will increase.

But hold on…before you start adding even more cardio to your exercise routine, think about this. There is growing research proving that strength training, including body weight exercises like squats and pushups, is a non-negotiable for heart health. Check out these ways strength training affects your heart health.

Blood Pressure. A study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research found that moderate-intensity strength training lowered blood pressure in exercisers. It also increased total-body blood flow to a greater degree than aerobic exercise did.

Cholesterol. A Journal of Applied Physiology study found that men who regularly strength train have better functioning HDL (good) cholesterol as compared with those who never strength train.

Muscle Mass. Strength training can also alter body composition, which has a huge impact on cardiovascular health. Low muscle mass levels may also be a risk factor for heart disease. Greater muscle mass has been associated with less plaque build-up in the coronary arteries.

The truth is, most Americans fall short of exercise. Only half of US adults get the recommended amount of exercise per week (30 minutes of moderate-intensity 5 times a week), and the numbers fall as people get older. No matter what you do, find something you like and stick with it. Your heart depends on it.