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Cardio, weights, or both?

Among women especially, there is a commonly held belief that to improve your health and fitness and lose weight, cardio is best. Strength training, on the other hand, is often sidelined as many feel that it will make them ‘bulky’.

The cardio versus weight training debate has been thrust back into focus following a study published in January 2017 in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise. Well, based on these latest findings, trying to make an either-or decision may be short-changing your results.

New study

A group of researchers led by Eric Shiroma analysed data from the Women’s Health Study (WHS), which was a randomised trial conducted from 1992 to 2004 with 39,876 healthy female participants aged between 47 and 98. The study examined the benefit of low-dose aspirin and vitamin E for the prevention of cardiovascular disease and cancer.

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During the WHS, the female participants completed health questionnaires every six months during the first year, and then annually thereafter. One of the questions posed to the respondents required that they estimate how much weight lifting or strength training they had done per week over the year. In the new study, the researchers sought to use this information to determine the relationship between strength training and the risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. What they found points to a significant increase in health among those women who trained with weights.

Better health

From the research findings, the study authors determined that women who reported participating in any amount of strength training were more likely to have a lower BMI, were more likely to eat healthfully, and were less likely to be a smoker compared with women who did not participate in strength training.

As a result, participation in any strength training was associated with a 30% reduction in type 2 diabetes and a 17% reduction in rates of cardiovascular disease compared with women who didn’t lift.

However, ultimately it was determined that those who engaged in both strength training and aerobic activity experienced the greatest reduction in the rate of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, compared with either aerobic activity alone or no training.

Compared with women who did no form of exercise, women who participated in both strength training and did 120 minutes or more of aerobic activity experienced a 65% reduction in the rate of type 2 diabetes. The women who skipped the gym and did only 120 minutes or more of aerobic activity experienced a 48% reduction.

A similar trend emerged in relation to the prevalence of cardiovascular disease as women who participated in both strength training and 120 minutes or more of aerobic activity had the largest reduction in their rate of cardiovascular disease, at 39%, whereas women who participated in aerobic activity alone experienced a reduction of just 21%.

According to researchers, the reasons for the incredible health benefits of weight training include the fact that increased muscle mass and a reduced body mass index (BMI) potentially leads to greater insulin sensitivity and more efficient glucose transport and metabolism. Although endurance training has also been shown to improve glucose metabolism, the larger gains in muscle tissue from strength training may explain the greater risk reduction for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease among those engaging in aerobic activities alone.

This study was one of the first to specifically examine the effects of strength training on the risk of type 2 diabetes or cardiovascular disease, but the findings echo those of other studies that have found a positive association between weight training and reduced rates of type 2 diabetes. However, the study authors concluded that additional research is needed to determine the “optimum dose and intensity of muscle-strengthening activities for the reduction of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease rates.”

This article was adapted from a Fitness magazine feature written by Pedro van Gaalen, Managing Editor at Fitness Magazine. 

Author: Logan Leigh Rix

Logan blends her passion and profession by working as a digital and social media marketer and content creator in the fitness, health and wellness industry. She’s also a personal trainer, former Face of Fitness finalist and Fitness Magazine featured athlete.

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