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Heart Healthy Exercises for Women: Aerobic or Resistance?

It’s a classic question. Which is better for your goal: strength or endurance training?

We addressed this for weight loss previously, but what about for heart health? More specifically, what about aerobic versus resistance training in cardiovascular fitness for women?

Cardiovascular Disease in Women

While much of the attention for cardiovascular disease (CVD) has been heaped on men in past years, CVD ranks as a leading cause of illness and death among Australian women. CVD accounts for 12% of the total burden of disease, leading to more than 20,000 deaths among women each year. Therefore, when we are thinking about general exercise regimen for women, we definitely want to keep cardiovascular fitness in mind as a main goal.

Previous Research: Aerobic or Resistance Exercise for Cardiovascular Stress Reactivity

Multiple studies show that both aerobic exercise and resistance exercise promote cardiovascular fitness,1 but is one better than the other? Older research has varying conclusions. One study found that aerobic and resistance exercise were equally effective on cardiovascular stress reactivity,2 while a different study found that aerobic exercise was more beneficial.3 A shortcoming in previous studies is that most or all of the subjects were men. Women and men respond differently to exercise, especially where stress response is an issue.4   

Aerobic Versus Resistance Training for Cardiovascular Fitness in Women

Now, we have a relatively new study to address this question specifically for women.5 Researchers randomised 52 healthy but untrained female students into three groups: (1) aerobic training, (2) resistance training, and (3) no training. After eight weeks, both aerobic and resistance groups realised roughly equal improvements in cardiovascular fitness improvement and in measures of stress and coping. The research suggests that cardiovascular fitness is no reason to reduce attention toward resistance training.

There is a general belief that women may gravitate toward aerobic exercise at the expense of resistance, and that men may do the opposite. An exercise regimen that balances resistance and aerobic training is recommended.



  1. Pinckard K, Baskin KK, Stanford KI. Effects of exercise to improve cardiovascular health. Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine. 2019 Jun 4;6:69.
  2. Gröpel P, Urner M, Pruessner JC, Quirin M. Endurance-and resistance-trained men exhibit lower cardiovascular responses to psychosocial stress than untrained men. Frontiers in Psychology. 2018 Jun 1;9:852.
  3. Spalding TW, Lyon LA, Steel DH, Hatfield BD. Aerobic exercise training and cardiovascular reactivity to psychological stress in sedentary young normotensive men and women. Psychophysiology. 2004 Jul;41(4):552-62.
  4. Kelly MM, Tyrka AR, Anderson GM, Price LH, Carpenter LL. Sex differences in emotional and physiological responses to the Trier Social Stress Test. Journal of Behavior Therapy and Experimental Psychiatry. 2008 Mar 1;39(1):87-98.
  5. Chovanec L, Gröpel P. Effects of 8-week endurance and resistance training programmes on cardiovascular stress responses, life stress and coping. Journal of Sports Sciences. 2020 Aug 2;38(15):1699-707.

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