While both weight training and cardio offer distinct advantages, the key to a long and healthy life lies in balancing the two. It is important to integrate both forms of exercise into your weekly routine to make sure that you are addressing all aspects of your health.
Resistance (strength / weight) training and cardiovascular (cardio) exercise are both vital components of a balanced fitness regimen, and each of them offers its own distinct benefits. In a quest for longevity and a healthier life, regular physical activity is crucial, but which form of exercise helps us to live longer? While both offer significant health benefits, they contribute in different ways to extending our health span — the part of our life in which we are able to live healthily and actively.
A National Health and Nutrition Examination survey of four thousand adults revealed that even though any physical activity may have health benefits, static activities such as resistance training are more likely to reduce heart disease risks than dynamic activities such as walking, running and cycling. Resistance training is often neglected, or put into a place of less importance behind cardio workouts. While also building and maintaining muscle mass, resistance exercises like lifting weights or bodyweight training can help in boosting our metabolic rate which is crucial for maintaining a healthy weight as we age. Additionally, weight training is fundamental in strengthening bones and thus reducing the risk of osteoporosis and fractures in older adults. It also improves joint flexibility and balance, which are essential for preventing falls. Regular weight training has also been linked to improved mental health, including reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety, and better cognitive function.
Cardio training, which includes activities like running, walking, cycling, and swimming, of course offers cardiovascular benefits. By strengthening the heart and improving circulation, cardio exercises help reduce the risk of heart diseases and also play a crucial role in controlling blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and blood sugar, contributing to overall heart health and longevity. And in addition to its physical benefits, cardio training plays a major role in our mental health. It stimulates the release of endorphins, often termed as “happiness” hormones, which can alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. It has been linked to improved sleep quality and stress reduction, both of which are critical for a healthy life span.
In summary, both resistance training and cardio offer unique and complementary benefits. Resistance training is more focused on building strength, muscle mass, and improving bone density, whereas cardio exercise is key for heart health, endurance, and calorie burning. A well rounded fitness routine should ideally includes a balance of both to achieve optimal health and fitness. And when we do this, together they create a synergistic effect that not only helps to extends our lifespan, but also enhances the quality of our life during those years.
My personal preference has always been to focus more on resistance training. However, we are all different, so to find the right balance for you it is important that you consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new exercise regimen, especially if you have any pre-existing health conditions.
Harvard Medical School. “Can exercise extend your life?”. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/can-exercise-extend-your-life-2019031316207
AARP. “7 Reasons Why Strength Training Is Key to a Long Life”. https://www.aarp.org/health/healthy-living/info-2022/strength-training-and-longevity.html
National Library of Medicine. “Survival of the fittest: VO2max, a key predictor of longevity?”. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29293447/
National Library of Medicine. “Training Strategies to Optimize Cardiovascular Durability and Life Expectancy”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC10121111/
Harvard Medical School. “Strength training might lengthen life”. https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/strength-training-might-lengthen-life
National Library of Medicine. “Training for Longevity: The Reverse J-Curve for Exercise”. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7431070/
American College of Cardiology. “Research Shows Static Physical Activity More Beneficial Than Dynamic”. https://www.acc.org/Latest-in-Cardiology/Articles/2018/11/16/15/33/Research-Shows-Static-Physical-Activity-More-Beneficial-Than-Dynamic
Medical News Today. “How heavy lifting at work affects cardiovascular health”. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/326939#4-different-types-of-physical-activity