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Cardio vs strength training for weight loss

For the best weight loss results, is it better to focus on cardio or strength training?

Many of us ramp up our cardiovascular activity when trying to shed excess pounds, but long-lasting weight loss isn’t achieved by counting down the minutes on the treadmill. A significant amount of research has found that combining both cardiovascular exercise and weight training yields the best weight loss results, says Kelly St. George, M.A., an exercise physiologist at Piedmont.

Cardiovascular exercise for weight loss

Get your heart rate up with at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio each week, which is about 30 minutes five days a week. If you prefer higher intensity workouts, aim for 75 minutes of vigorous activity each week – that’s just 25 minutes three days a week.

How you fit in your cardio is up to you. If you’re crunched for time, divide up your workouts into three 10-minute sessions, for example. When you have more time, plan a longer workout – say, 30 to 60 minutes. The key is to achieve a minimum of 150 minutes per week. If you’re a beginner, start slowly and gradually build up to this goal.

The benefits of cardiovascular exercise include:

  • Increased bone density
  • Healthy circulation
  • Better heart health
  • Less anxiety and stress
  • Improved quality of sleep
  • Stabilized blood sugar levels, especially for diabetics

Strength training for weight loss

Weight training is an underrated, yet important part of a weight loss plan and exercise routine. Weight training helps build lean muscle mass, which strengthens the body and helps burn unwanted fat, and it helps build bone density which is especially important as you age.

St. George recommends the following guidelines according to the American College of Sports Medicine’s standards:

Recommended guidelines:

  • 8 to 10 exercises per session
  • 8 to 12 reps per exercise equals 1 set
  • 1 to 3 sets per exercise
  • Every 2 to 3 weeks, increase weight by about 5 pounds. If you can’t achieve 8 to 10 reps with good form, your weight is too heavy.

“The best way to know how much weight you should be lifting, what muscle groups to target and how to best target them, is to meet with a certified, professional, physical trainer,” says St. George. “It’s easy to overdo it, leading to bad form, which can cause injuries.”

In addition to toning your muscles, weight training:

  • Burns calories
  • Keeps metabolism regulated
  • Decreases risk of osteoporosis
  • Helps with stability and balance
  • Improves ability to accomplish daily tasks as you age, such as getting out of a chair, lifting groceries, climbing stairs, etc.

Stretching as part of a fitness routine

Stretching before and after any workout is important to prevent injury. Flexibility is especially important as you age, and incorporating a stretching routine into your workout will help you stay flexible. Your workout routine should follow this model:

  • Start with a light 5 to 10 minute cardio warmup.
  • Stretch for 10 minutes. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds.
  • Main workout routine.
  • Stretch for 20 minutes. Hold each stretch for 20 seconds.

“The beauty of these types of exercises is they don’t have to be done in a gym,” reminds St. George. “Anyone can buy bands and light dumbbells to incorporate strength training into their weekly routine and do pushups, sit-ups, and wall squats in the comfort of home. Walking or jogging outside or strolling through a mall are all free.”

Before diving into an exercise routine, St. George recommends speaking with a professional trainer to help establish a workout that will set you up for success. Recommended workout routines vary by age, body type and ability, but the key is to keep moving and incorporate both cardio and weight training into a regular workout regimen.

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