Should You Choose Cardio or Weights? What is Best for Your Health

By Dr. Molly Casey

Workouts for You

Move your body. It’s a requirement for health. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve repeated this to patients over the years in practice and, in fact, to my own family and friends. It’s simply the truth. Most folks don’t move enough. This problem gets worse and worse as society becomes more sedentary in most aspects of life and as our food quality deteriorates. One consistent and common comment from patients with regard to exercise is it’s confusing, that they don’t know what to do and/or why.

Below is a super basic outline of different categories of exercise. Remember this is basic and broad and each category can be used in different ways to achieve different results. But the most important thing is it will get you moving.

Cardiovascular (Cardio)

Cardio is a type of exercise that raises your heart rate and breathing for more than 10 consecutive minutes. Think about this as movement for a sustained period of time. The point is to get the heart pumping faster and the lungs working harder. When we put stress on these two organs and make them work harder and for longer periods of time, they become more efficient and the functioning capacity grows your overall health. Increasing your cardio improves your health.

Examples include, but are not limited, to walking, running, biking, swimming, cross-country skiing, and the elliptical or stair machine. In addition to the heart and lungs working harder and more efficiently, you’re also moving joints through their range of motion and stimulating the lymphatic system. Moving joints consistently through their ranges of motion maintains their function and health. The lymphatic system carries waste throughout the body and it’s dependent upon movement of muscles and joints to propel this waste through the proper exit channels.

Strength Training

Most folks think of cardio and weightlifting as the two main forms of exercising. Instead I prefer strength training to weightlifting. The reason is the true component of health is to increase strength, and though one way of achieving that is through lifting weights, it’s not the only way. Weightlifting in and of itself can be quite intimidating for some, so think of it as gaining strength.

Types of strength training include, but are not limited to, body weight exercises -- squats, push-ups, lunges, and tricep dips. There are also basic pieces of equipment for home and gym that can assist in providing more options for body weight exercises, such as a pull-up bar or TRX suspension training. There is actual weight lifting and this category can then be divvied up into more specific types of lifting weights.

When you strengthen your body you decrease your chance of injury, you burn more fat, increase stability, you can help lower blood pressure, you become as functional as possible in your daily life, and the list goes on. The importance of strength training in one’s health routine is often overlooked. Here is a list of body weight exercises you can do right at home, no excuses.

Mixing It Up

People can get stuck in the pattern of “cardio is better” because it burns more calories than strength training. Although that may be true during the actual exercise, the metabolism generally tends to stay higher while burning more calories for longer periods of time until strength training is complete. Important to know is that there are far more benefits than how many calories are burned.

The best way to think about exercise and movement, beyond all else, is that it’s critically vital to your optimal health. Your body needs you to move. Commit to getting a mixture of cardio and strength training into your regular routine. It can be as easy as walking 45 minutes daily and 15 minutes of at-home body weight exercises. If you choose to go that simple, the key is to be relentlessly consistent. Like every day forever consistent. If you choose to add more strenuous exercises, you can do shorter periods of time and have rest days throughout the week. I always encourage walking a minimum of 30 minutes daily even if they are considered your rest days.

Workout Options

Here are some ideas to ponder as you consider upping your movement game.

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) - Work really hard -- and I mean really hard -- for a short period of time; rest and repeat for a set period of time. An example would be run as hard and fast as you can for one minute, rest for 30 seconds, run as hard as you can for one minute and rest for 30 seconds. This is highly effective for people who don’t have a lot of time. The workouts can be done in as little as 12-15 minutes. The point is that you are completely spent at the end of it.

Group classes - These are great for folks who love camaraderie and find it helpful to be part of a group experience. The classes can be strength training or cardio or any mix. The instructor can offer guidance on form and exercise. The cost is generally far more affordable compared to one-on-one sessions.

Personal training - These are one-to-one workouts tailored for the client by a certified instructor. This can be the perfect way to get started or to keep you on track throughout your journey. Often you can go for a couple of sessions and they’ll put together a plan for you to execute on your own.

It’s vitally important that you remain active throughout your life, and it’s best if you focus on improving your lung and heart health through cardio and your muscle and joint health through strength training; it gives you the best chance to enjoy your golden years. Get moving and stay moving. Get a plan and stick to it. It’ll help your spine, your mind, your body, and your life!

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