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Cardio or Strength Training: Which is More Effective at Achieving Your Goals?

Cardio or Strength Training: Which is More Effective at Achieving Your Goals?

A woman sweating after a strenuous training session.

You’ve worked up the gumption (or finally found the time) to get in a good workout. Now how do you take best advantage of this precious opportunity for maximum benefits—a heart-pumping, lung-filling cardio workout or a muscle-burning, heave-ho-ing weight training session?

Of course, exercising in any way at all does a body (and a mind) good, regardless of your workout du jour. Yet more and more studies are showing that when it comes to the mental and physical effects of resistance training vs. aerobic exercise, one may in fact be better than the other. Here’s how to fit your workout to your goals.

Mood Maintenance

Winner: Cardio

The key to a cheerful outlook and a positive mindset lies in the release of “happy” hormones known as endorphins in the brain. Natural pain-killers and mood enhancers, endorphins play a leading role in reducing stress, depression and anxiety. Cardiovascular exercises such as running, swimming, cycling and rowing are some of the most effective ways to flood the brain with endorphins.

One study, conducted by the Department of Health and Sport Science at the University of Richmond, even found that lifting weights left endorphin levels in the body unchanged during and after the strenuous exercises.

Efficient Weight loss

Winner: Strength Training

There’s no question that cardio is good for torching calories, so don’t discount the weight-loss possibilities that come with an hour-long tennis match. When it comes to heightening your fat-blasting potential however, strength training reigns supreme.

Exercises that offer even a small amount of resistance can efficiently increase muscle strength and endurance, taking inches from your waistline. In fact, for every pound of muscle you build, your body is able to burn an additional 50 calories per day. Now tally up how many extra calories you’ll burn in a year. Increase the amount of resistance, and you’ll send your fat-burning powers soaring even higher.

Brain Power

Winner: It’s a tie!

To maximize brain function, you’ll want to ramp activity in the frontal cortex of the brain (responsible for long-term memory function) and the parietal cortex (which controls spatial orientation). Both of these regions are linked with age-related cognitive decline—a problem that can be prevented by increasing blood flow to the brain, as well as a “miracle-grow” hormone called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF.

So how can you nourish your brain with blood cells and BDNF? Incorporate 30 minutes of aerobic exercise into your workout regimen at least three days a week to enhance your productivity and problem-solving capabilities.

But that’s not all. You can also boost intelligence levels by sprinkling just 20 minutes of resistance training into your gym routine. For example, running five minutes then performing push-ups for two minutes may sharpen your intellect. Thrice weekly strength-training sessions also check memory-damaging amino acids from thwarting brain power.

Whatever your preferred exercise techniques, the most important thing is to just make sure you get up and do them, and do them regularly! For all the above reasons and many, many more, 30 minutes a day of anything that raises your heart rate—walking, dancing, lifting, even rigorous housecleaning—will go a long way toward a long, healthy, and happy life.

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