Many people view exercise as one of the golden health habits. Indeed, physical activity is one of the best practices you can adopt today to improve your overall health. Given the rise of lifestyle diseases, such as heart disease or diabetes, people now pay more attention to how their daily activities affect their bodies. Exercise is a great way to make your body stronger and more resistant to these diseases.
However, you might have heard about two types of exercise: cardio and strength training. Ever wondered which one is better for you? They both improve your health through different methods. You need both to maintain your body in top shape, so you should incorporate both into your daily life.
As the name suggests, cardio or aerobic exercise primarily targets your heart and lungs. Cardio includes repetitive movements done at moderate intensity for an extended period. Classic exercises falling under this category include walking, running, cycling, or long-distance swimming.
As your body continuously moves, your heart tries to increase its output by raising its heart rate. Over time, your heart muscles become stronger and more richly supplied with blood vessels. When you’re at rest, your heart rate drops since your more efficient heart doesn’t need to beat as often. Your heart can rest more during inactivity to respond faster to sudden activity spikes.
“Participating in exercise 4-5 days per week is necessary to keep your heart young,” says Shigeki Shibata, MD.
At the same time, your lungs need to adapt by being more efficient at gas exchange. They need to transfer more oxygen into your blood and remove more carbon dioxide. The diaphragm and other breathing muscles need to strengthen so that they can help the lungs expand and contract more efficiently. Exercise makes your lungs more efficient and increases the endurance of your breathing muscles.
Cardio affects the entire body, not just the cardiovascular system. It improves metabolism and helps prevent some forms of diabetes from occurring. It also strengthens the immune system, leading to a lower risk of infections and cancer. During workouts, cardio consumes more calories than anaerobic exercises, directly increasing your potential to lose weight. “Emerging research, however, warns that individuals can overdo exercise increasing the risk of a cardiovascular event,” warns Rick Nauert, Ph.D.
Unlike cardiovascular exercise, anaerobic exercise doesn’t require as much oxygen. Anaerobic exercises consist of rapid bursts of muscle activity, performed at high intensities. A proper routine includes enough rest to allow your muscles to recover between movements.
A classic exercise in this category is weightlifting, whether it involves machines, barbells, dumbbells, or even bodyweight. Other examples include short sprints and plyometric movements.
Anaerobic exercises target specific muscle groups. When muscles feel stress during training, they adapt by building more muscle fibers per cell. This mechanism results in stronger and bigger muscles. Bones and other connective tissues become stronger and less likely to get injured.
“Many people want to give up on exercise because they don’t feel that they have enough time. However, HIIT may be a viable, time-efficient exercise option, even for inactive people who have never tried it before,” says Matthew Stork, Ph.D.
Despite targeting specific muscles, anaerobic exercises also have systemic effects. The intensity of the workouts stimulates the body to burn more energy during post-exercise recovery. As a result, people who lift weights burn more calories even hours after a workout. The larger muscle mass provided by anaerobic exercise means that you consume more calories per day, even when you’re at rest. Hence, anaerobic exercise is also an effective way to lose weight.
Want to get the best of both worlds? You should do both aerobic and anaerobic exercises. They complement each other, so doing one of them helps you become better at the other. If you regularly delve into these two exercise types, you’re on your way to a fitter body.