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Cardio or Strength: Which Do You Need?

Which fitness program do you need—cardiovascular exercise or strength training? The simple answer—both. The complicated answer—it depends what your goals are.

Do you want to lose weight, sculpt and tone your body, relieve stress, build stamina, or all of the above? Your goals will determine the best course of action. Put simply, both strength training and cardiovascular exercise offer benefits. Here’s the breakdown:

Strength Training

  • Weight lifting torches calories. While popular belief once held that cardio exercise was the way to burn calories, new research indicates that strength training burns more calories than once believed. Furthermore, strength training creates a metabolic spike, so your body continues to burn calories even after you’re done—in fact, a University of Wisconsin study found that metabolism was elevated for 39 hours after lifting weights. What’s more, a greater percentage of calories are burned from fat during this time.
  • Stay lean. For every three pounds of muscle you build, you’ll burn an extra 120 calories a day—just doing nothing. It’s a fact. Muscle takes more energy to sustain, so by building muscle, you’re eliminating fat and trimming your physique. Put simply—if you want to look better naked, lift weights.
  • Promote functional strength and health. Functional strength training incorporates balance, strength, and agility. This regimen promotes balance and health and can prevent injuries. In contrast, the repetitive nature of some cardiovascular exercise can cause strain and injury if it’s not supplemented with strength training.

Cardiovascular Exercise

  • Relieve stress. Cardiovascular exercise releases endorphins and elevates serotonin levels in the brain, which helps alleviate depression and relieve stress. In fact, just 15 minutes of cardio several times a week can significantly reduce anxiety.
  • Build stamina. Cardiovascular exercise helps build stamina and reduce fatigue.
  • Improve immune system. Cardiovascular exercise has been shown to activate the immune system and fight off infection. People who do regular cardio exercise are less susceptible to colds and flu.
  • Prolong life. Regular cardio exercise has been shown to prolong life. Aerobic exercise promotes oxygen delivery to the muscles and improves heart health. A stronger heart pumps more blood with each beat. Cardio exercise has been shown to prevent inflammation, raise good cholesterol levels,  and reduce the risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, stroke, and even certain types of cancer.
  • Burn calories. Though cardio exercise doesn’t burn calories on the level of strength training, it still offers plenty of benefit.

The bottom line—both cardio and strength training offer numerous benefits and both will leave you feeling great. The best exercise regimens probably incorporate both types of exercise for overall fitness and health. That said, if you have only 30 minutes to spare and you’re trying to decide how to spend them, consider what you need at the moment. Are you feeling stressed and anxious? Then go for the cardio. But, if you just need a good workout, a lot of new research indicates that the strength training will offer more benefit in terms of burning calories and reducing fat.

Whatever you choose, remember to have fun!