Two out of three Americans are overweight or clinically obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But if you’re in one of those categories and want to lose weight you may wonder: Is cardio or strength training the best way to shed a couple pounds?
That question has long been one of heated debate, with exercise enthusiasts coming down in squarely one camp or the other. Duke University researchers set out to solve the question, and conducted the largest study of its kind comparing the two forms of exercise.
The researchers spent eight months tracking 119 overweight and previously sedentary people while they performed resistance training, aerobic exercise or a combination of the two. Their findings: Cardio was better than weight-training for weight loss, but both forms of exercise are beneficial
“Minute per minute, cardio burns more calories, so it works best for reducing fat mass and body mass,” says Duke researcher Cris Slentz, assistant professor of medicine at university says.
But he adds that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t lift weights, especially as you age and lose muscle mass. “Resistance training is important for maintaining lean body mass, strength and function, and being functionally fit is important for daily living no matter what your size.”
According to the study findings, the cardio group far outperformed the weight training group, losing about four pounds. The weight training group actually gained two pounds.
The weight gain was attributed to added lean muscle, but the added muscle didn’t lead to any fat loss over the course of the study. The weight lifters exercised 47 more minutes each week than the cardio group and still didn’t lose a pound.
The real winner of the experiment was the cardio-plus-resistance group. They lost the most fat while adding some lean mass, but had to spend twice as much time in the gym to reach that goal.
An American Council on Exercise study found that a person’s heart rate is about 12 beats per minute faster during cardio if he or she lifts weights beforehand. That translates to more calories burned and greater weight loss.
But Slentz adds that it’s important to remember that exercise isn’t the only key to weight loss.
“Exercise by itself will not lead to big weight loss. What and how much you eat has a far greater impact on how much weight you lose,” he says. According to Slentz, it’s easier to take in fewer calories than it is to burn significant amounts off. However, exercise is imperative for preventing weight gain and keeping pounds off once you’ve lost weight.
“Exercise seems to work best for body weight control,” he says.
The National Weight Control Registry says 90 percent of people who successfully lost weight and kept it off perform a cardio exercise, like walking, for at least an hour a day.
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