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Exercise: Cardio or Strength - Which One(s)? By Carmel Benson, Ph.D.

The Cardio vs Strength “Debate”:

We all know that cardio exercise, such as jogging, aerobics and even brisk walking works out our heart and pumps circulation through our muscles and organs, making it typically very healthy for that reason. On the other hand, we also know that cardio exercises can wreak havoc on our joints, especially as we age. Strength exercises, such as squats or weightlifting, are supposedly better for our joints, and yet there are doubters who say the caloric benefits are subpar to cardio. 

Like most health topics, the jury sways over time. We’re currently seeing a swing towards the strength-training side of the pendulum, but our decades-long experience of being told one thing and then another has strengthened our healthy level of pragmatism. Let’s explore what the experts are currently saying:


Cardio Proponents:

“Cardio” is of course short for “cardiovascular,” which means “heart/vein-related”, as “cardio” refers to “heart” and “vascular” refers to “veins.” In addition to cardio’s benefits as mentioned above, it is relatively easy, cheap, and quick to accomplish cardio exercise. Per guidelines, even a 20-minute brisk walk counts as cardio exercise, which serves many populations who are unable to do more. For others, it could be a 30- 60-minute jog or even a cardio exercise class of similar timeframes. 

For those individuals unable to do more, walking is generally considered safe, as long as the speed and comfort conforms to individuals’ wellness and safety guidelines as set forth by their physicians. For others, it could include a regimen of anything from speed walking to jumping jacks to other forms of cardio exercise that adhere to a physician’s guidance. As a reminder, always check with your physician prior to embarking on any exercise program.


Cardio Adversaries:

Some experts advise against engaging in cardiovascular activities, especially for those with high blood pressure and various other reasons, which is why it is best to consult with a physician prior to taking on such exercises. 


Strength Training Proponents:

Experts suggest that starting out slowly, whether through light weights (e.g. 2-5lb weights), limited pushups, or other means such as 10-20 squats at a time, can be beneficial.


Strength Training Adversaries:

Some experts warn individuals about over exertion and possible injury. For example, it’s possible to overextend one’s joints, muscles, or general health when strength training without proper guidance.


So, what’s the general guidance?

As with everything, it seems that moderation is key.  Experts advise a combination of both cardio and strength exercises. For example, a brisk walk or jog combined with around 10 to 15 pushups a day,  or 10-15 squats will combine the beneficial effects of cardio and strength training to augment your overall health. Of course, all exercises are dependent on your health so please check with your physician before embarking on any regime you may plan to begin.


REFERENCES:

1. “Cardio Exercises Benefit More than Just Your Heart.” Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, 14 May 2024, health.clevelandclinic.org/the-many-benefits-of-a-cardio-workout.


2. Davidson, Katey. “14 Benefits of Strength Training, Backed by Science.” Healthline, Healthline Media, 16 Aug. 2021, www.healthline.com/health/fitness/benefits-of-strength-training.


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