Cardio vs. Resistance Training

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When it comes to exercise, there has long been a debate about which type is best. Is cardio the gold standard? Or do the benefits of resistance training far outweigh those of cardio?

While both forms of exercise provide huge benefits for your health, the choice depends entirely on your goals.

So, we’re going to examine a few common goals and evaluate the pros and cons. And what are the “rules” of cardio for different goals anyway?

What if your specific health goal is weight loss?

For years we’ve been told that cardio is the answer to weight loss. Well, one Duke University study demonstrates that this still holds true.

The study examined the results of 119 previously sedentary individuals over 8 months. Some participants performed cardio only and others did strictly resistance training.

The cardio-only group lost the most amount of weight (4 lbs) while the resistance training group gained 2 lbs. Although this 2 lbs was in fact lean muscle mass, it didn’t result in any additional fat loss over the course of the study.

What if your goal is overall better health - and longevity?

While cardiovascular exercise is beneficial for heart health and disease prevention, when it comes to longevity, resistance training is the clear winner.

As Dr Robert Schreiber, an instructor at Harvard Medical School states, "just doing aerobic exercise is not adequate. Unless you are doing strength training, you will become weaker and less functional. The average 30 year old will lose one quarter of their muscle by age 70 and half of it by age 90.”

How much cardio do I need to do in general?

According to HHS’s Healthy People 2020 recommendations, you should aim for 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous aerobic exercise each week.

Choose from running, power walking, cycling, aerobics, cross-country skiing, whatever -- the choice is yours! Aim for three x 50-minute sessions (or divide it into shorter more frequent sessions) of any activity that gets your heart rate up. Break a sweat, too.

So, how much resistance training is enough?

Aim to train all the major muscles of the body 2-3 times per week. Regular resistance training sessions will not only increase your overall strength but allow you to do everyday activities with more ease.

And, do you really need to choose between cardio and resistance training?

While the Duke University study did favor cardio for weight loss, a 3rd test group in the same study that did both cardio and resistance training did show interesting results. This group did a combination of both cardio and weights resulting in the best change in overall body composition.

This combination of the two types of physical training helped participants lose fat AND gain lean muscle mass -- which is key for maintaining strength AND longevity.

In today’s busy world it can be difficult to find time to fit in exercise at all. While your specific health goals will play a big part in choosing the type of workouts you do, the most important thing is that you’re staying consistently active.

Aim to exercise for 150 minutes every week (or more), eat a healthful and balanced diet, and you’ll be well on your way to feeling healthier and stronger.

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