Week 6 | Cardio vs Weights: Which Should We Be Doing?
I mentioned this in my very first article for Well, There's This, but I played volleyball in college for UCLA. At the time UCLA had more national championships than any other school in the nation and so for 4 years I was lucky enough to literally be training with the most premiere and distinguished collegiate athletes in the country. Regardless the mornings that called for 7am sprints and agilities on the track were usually met half asleep, delirious, and reluctant. I remember one morning, as we readied for another round of sprints at the top of the track, a probable neighbor of UCLA out for her morning jog, ran passed us. Mid stride she yelled over to us, 'you all should be grateful - one day you will be willing and eager to pay big bucks to workout like that'. She was right - staying in shape has stuck with me, and every month when hundreds of dollars roll out from my bank account to cover my workout classes, I remember that woman - our training at UCLA was priceless. My fitness was in the hands of another for so long, post college I was on my own and to tell you the truth until recently, I didn’t really know what it meant to be and stay in shape. In general, there are two ways to engage in exercise, via cardiovascular activity or strength training and this week we are talking the basics of fitness - how should we be working out and for how long?
Why Cardio and Weights Are a Must
Cardio and weight lifting are both very important for overall health and well-being. According to a Harvard article, “exercise is the best-kept secret in preventive medicine” (Harvard) . Cardio or, “cardiovascular exercise, is any movement that gets your heart rate up and increases blood circulation throughout the body” (Bodybuilding.com). It improves the condition of the heart whose primary purpose it is is to pump blood throughout the body - blood not only carries essential nutrients and oxygen to tissues, it also carries waste and carbon dioxide away. The heart is a muscle and to be able to pump blood around the body most efficiently from the tips of your toes all the way back to your heart, it must be strong - “like any other [muscle] and in order for [the heart] to become strong it must be worked. If you fail to work it, it will weaken over time and this can cause a variety of negative health effects” (Bodybuilding.com). A way to make the heart stronger is to engage in cardiovascular exercises - “too many people are getting winded just performing simple exercises such as walking up the stairs and the primary reason for this is because they are neglecting to work their heart muscle” (Bodybuilding.com).
Weight lifting and strength training also contribute to well-being. This type of training develops skeletal muscles, muscles that are attached, “to the skeleton to generate motion” (Scientific America). In an article for Time magazine, Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan, Mark Peterson explains, “it used to be we thought of strength training as something for athletes, but now we recognize it as a seminal part of general health and well-being at all ages”. Strength training has several healthful benefits, including bettering bone health and counteracting bone density loss. Additionally, “muscle is very metabolically active, and it uses glucose, or blood sugar, for energy - this energy consumption continues even after you’ve finished exercising. For anyone at risk for metabolic conditions—type-2 diabetes, but also high blood pressure, unhealthy cholesterol levels and other symptoms of metabolic syndrome—strength training is among the most-effective remedies” (Time). Research has also shown that lifting is “linked to improved focus and cognitive function, better balance, less anxiety and greater well-being - When we add strength…almost every health outcome improves” (Time).
The Differences Between Cardio and Weight Training
Cardio and weight training are two great ways to better the body. However, when it comes to their function, they “burn calories in slightly different ways”. Dr. Nicole Keith for Self magazine explains, “if you were to hook yourself up to a metabolic monitor and measure your energy expenditure, cardio initially is going to burn more calories”. While partaking in a spin class or out on a run, you exert more energy than during a comparable session of lifting weights.
Post workout however, weight training will leave you burning calories well beyond your hours in the gym, even when you are just sitting around; “Muscle is metabolically active, meaning that the more of it you have on your body the more calories you'll burn throughout the day even when you're not exercising” (Self). This happens because after weight training, “your body needs energy to repair your muscles after you've challenged them. Studies show that a well-designed strength program can elevate your...metabolism for up to 38 hours after the workout” (Muscle and Fitness).
In a nutshell, cardio burns more calories while you are doing it versus weight training and building muscle that allow for your body to burn more calories post workout.
How Much Cardio + Weight Training Do I Need?
According to a Harvard article, “the amount of exercise you need depends on your reasons for exercising, on your starting point, and on how quickly you want to achieve your goals”. In general to maintain good health, you probably need less exercise than you think - “you can get all the health benefits you need from moderate exercise that won't make you huff and puff — as long as it adds up to enough total activity” (Harvard).
Specifically, the Mayo Clinic suggests per week, the magically number of total cardio activity we should engage in is 150 minutes - “get at least 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity a week”. I like to space mine out at about 30 minutes of cardio, over 4-5 days every week.
When it comes to strength training, the Mayo Clinic recommends, “do strength training exercises for all major muscle groups at least two times a week. Aim to do a single set of each exercise, using a weight or resistance level heavy enough to tire your muscles after about 12 to 15 repetitions” (Mayo Clinic).
To help motivate you to fulfill these numbers each week, a study found, "that people who did moderate exercise just 15 minutes a day tended to live an average of three years longer than their inactive peers. While more exercise is even better for your health, the benefits plateau beyond 45 to 60 minutes of daily moderate exercise. Do more exercise if you enjoy it, but from a health standpoint, there are diminishing returns after the first hour, says Dr. Simon” (Harvard).
How do you workout?