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Strength Training

The Benefits of Cardio vs. Strength Training

May 8, 2023

Exercise has an undeniable positive effect on overall health. Physical activity reduces the likelihood of developing chronic conditions like diabetes, heart disease, dementia and many different types of cancer. Regular fitness also boosts longevity. The CDC reports that increased physical activity could prevent 110,000 deaths in U.S. adults 40 years and up. As little as 10 minutes a day could make a big difference. 

Cardiovascular exercise benefits your body by raising your pulse and breathing rate, and by increasing oxygen consumption, which over time improves heart and lung function. Cardio workouts, which include running, swimming, cycling, hiking, skiing, and dance, among many other options, also burn calories, helping keep your weight within a healthy range.

Strength training, on the other hand, employs a form of resistance, such as weights, body weight, and/or resistance bands, to build muscle, strength, and endurance. Strength training can also help increase bone density, burn calories, and increase metabolism.

These two forms of exercise work different systems of the body and each lead to extensive benefits, so incorporating both into your routine helps you unlock peak performance and maximize health benefits. According to research published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, cardio and strength training are most effective in reducing mortality risk when performed together. 

Here’s a more in-depth look into the benefits of cardio and strength training individually, and tips for designing an effective workout routine that makes the most of both types of exercise:

Benefits of Cardiovascular Exercise

The benefits of regular cardio exercise are both immediate and long-term, and serve your body in numerous, unparalleled ways. From improving heart health and endurance, to promoting better sleep and helping manage chronic conditions, the impact of routine cardio workouts cannot be overstated. Here are some of the many ways you benefit:

Promote Cardiovascular Health

Cardio fitness is one of the most commonly recommended strategies for improving cardiovascular health. It can optimize blood pressure and heart rate by boosting blood circulation, and by strengthening the heart muscle. Cardio exercise also supports ideal cardiac output and function. 

Improve Sleep

Regular cardio exercise can have a multi-pronged impact on improving sleep. Research indicates that moderate cardio exercise was linked with greater sleep quality and restfulness, as well as fewer nighttime awakenings and a reduction in the time it took to fall asleep. 

Help Manage Chronic Health Conditions

Cardiovascular exercise has a positive impact on more than just the cardiovascular system. Regular cardio has been linked to benefits for several other chronic health conditions

For those dealing with diabetes, cardio may also decrease blood sugar levels and assist with insulin level management. It can also benefit those with asthma and chronic pain by decreasing the chance of asthma attacks and reducing pain levels. 

Support Brain Function

Cardio exercise also improves cognitive function, memory, and brain health. Cardio exercise has been found to improve the blood flow rate to the brain, carrying vital oxygen and glucose that boosts performance. 

A study from the University of British Columbia found that cardio exercise was linked to improvements in spatial memory abilities and increases in an area of the brain called the hippocampus, which plays a significant role in learning and memory. It’s posited that cardio fitness may help combat the memory decline associated with aging and dementia. 

For more information on the strong positive effect of exercise on brain function, check out the WHOOP podcast with neurophysiologist Dr. Louisa Nicola, who breaks down exactly how both resistance training and aerobic exercise play a critical role in how well your brain ages and functions.

Benefits of Strength Training

While strength training can feel even more physically taxing, the pay-off is enormous, and has positive effects on body composition, blood profiles, cognitive function, mental health, and even hormonal balance, which are explained in more depth in our related WHOOP podcast by our team of experts. Overall, strength training exercises lead to measurable, life-enhancing health benefits including:

Increase Muscle Mass

Strength training increases muscle mass by stimulating muscle fibers, which can lead to greater muscle growth over time. It can also be a vital strategy for combating age-related changes in muscle. Muscle mass naturally decreases by around 5% each decade after age 30, but strength training can work against this decline.

Benefit Bone Health

Bone mass starts to decrease by around 1% each year after age 40, increasing bone fragility. Research suggests that strength training can be useful for remedying this age-related change by reducing the rate of bone loss and by helping promote increases in bone mass. 

Reduce Stress Levels

Resistance and strength training has been linked to reductions in stress levels. According to research, regular strength training is associated with lower feelings of worry and anxiety. It’s also been shown to positively affect cognitive function, self-esteem, and depression. These results have been consistent with different types of strength training exercises and study participants. 

Strengthen the Joints

The benefits of strength training are not limited to increases in muscle strength — this type of exercise can also strengthen your joints. Strength training promotes overall joint health and can also address acute joint issues. Research has found that strength training can reduce joint pain, ease stiffness, and support optimal movement in those dealing with osteoarthritis of the knees and hips. 

Tips on Optimizing Your Fitness Routine

Cardio and strength training have the most significant impact on health when performed together as part of a balanced fitness routine. Here are some tips for programming an optimal exercise routine:

  • Follow Science-Based Recommendations — The same study that found that cardio and strength training was most effective in lowering mortality risk when performed together also highlighted guidelines for how often each type of exercise could be done to see results. A minimum of 1 hour of cardio and 1-2 strength training sessions per week effectively lowered mortality rate, though effects were more substantial with 3 hours of cardio a week. 
  • Consider Your Goals — When deciding where to devote the bulk of your fitness efforts, it’s essential to consider your workout goals. If building muscle mass and strength is your main goal, you should spend more time on strength training while still performing some cardio. If boosting endurance and improving heart health are your main objectives, you should put more weight on cardio than strength training. 

Track Your Workouts with WHOOP 

To truly optimize your fitness routine, you need to be able to measure the impact of your fitness efforts, whether they are cardiovascular or muscular. With WHOOP, you can quantify the demand that both cardio and strength training workouts put on you. When you use Strength Trainer,  your Strain score calculates  the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular load of you workout to understand the demands you are putting on your body.

Strength Trainer makes WHOOP the first wearable to comprehensively measure the impact of strength training workouts on your body. As you look to develop an optimal routine based on your fitness goals, Strength Trainer can help you adjust your routine accordingly.

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