Cardio vs. Strength Training: Which to ChooseArticle posted in: Fitness
Here at South Beach Diet, we believe that weight loss and healthy living shouldn’t be complicated—and exercise is no exception. We recommend 30 minutes of physical activity daily, but what exercise should you be choosing? And should you focus on cardio or strength training? Both types of exercise are beneficial to a healthy lifestyle.
We’ve mapped out the science-backed benefits of both cardio and strength training so you have all the facts:
Cardio is any activity that gets you breathing a little harder and increases your heart rate. Low-intensity activities like walking the dog or taking the stairs count as cardio. But it’s medium-intensity exercises like Zumba or jogging and especially high-intensity cardio like running or kickboxing that help you burn calories quicker. Interval training—such as sprinting for a minute and walking for five—is another high intensity form of exercise that’s very effective at burning fat. All cardio exercises burn off glycogen stores and accelerate fat-loss.
In addition to weight loss, cardiovascular exercise is excellent for your overall health, benefiting nearly every area of the body. And according to Cleveland Clinic, the benefits of cardio speak for themselves. It decreases blood pressure and heart rate so your heart doesn’t have to work as hard. It increases blood flow and lowering the chance of stroke. It improves memory and thinking ability. It increases circulation leading to healthier skin. It helps decrease demands on lungs. It boosts mood, helps relieves anxiety and stress, improves sleep and provides long-lasting energy. And that’s just the tip of the benefit iceberg.
It’s also easy to do. “Cardio, it seems, is the go-to form of exercise for most beginners,” says Certified Personal Trainer and Group Exercise Coordinator Brenda Colyer, “By cardio, I mean sustained cardio, whether in the form of hitting the road and going for a long run, bike ride, swim, etc., or the kind of sustained cardio that is often performed (mindlessly) on machines in a repetitive fashion.” Everyone has to start somewhere, and cardio is effective if you vary your routine. But walking on a treadmill or spinning for an hour isn’t for everyone Colyer says. Nor is cardio the only effective way to obtain the heart-healthy benefits of exercise.
“Strength training, when done with mindful intensity, can give you adequate benefits for your cardiovascular system and will save you from repetitive-use injuries at the same time,” she says. “In fact, strength training can help prevent those same injuries.” Like cardio, strength training also has a long list of health benefits including improving blood pressure and brain health and increasing metabolism by building lean body mass. But what’s particularly important about strength training is its ability to help you live longer and live better. Really.
The average 30-year-old will lose about a quarter of his or her muscle strength by age 70 and half by age 90, according to Harvard Health. Strength training, however, reverses that trend and can not only strengthen bones but also build new. Strength training targets the hips, spine, wrists and sites most likely to fracture. And, by focusing on exercises that emphasize power and balance, it can help cut down on falls.
Strength training can also make an impressive psychological impact. A June 2018 study published in JAMA Psychiatry found that people with mild to moderate depression who performed resistance training two or more days a week saw “significant reductions in symptoms” compared with people who did not. Study authors also found people got a mood boost regardless of health status, how often they performed resistance training, and whether or not they got stronger as a result of working out.
So which is best: Cardio or strength training? Cardio is easy to do yourself but can become ineffective for weight loss if a routine isn’t constantly varied and increased in intensity. Strength training can be more exciting and effective long-term but can cause your body harm if you’re not trained properly. Each form of exercise has its benefits and downfalls so Colyer suggests a compromise. Do both. “If you want to make significant changes in your health and physique, start a resistance training program and continue to move throughout the day,” she says. “Regular, all-day movement on a consistent basis (cardio) along with a consistent strength training plan will certainly aim you in the direction towards better health.”