Cardio or weight training? Which is better?

People exercise for a variety of reasons.  Some exercise for stress relief, some for health benefits, some for weight control, some just to make them look good. Whatever your reason for exercise, there are always choices of types of exercise.  I have been asked which is better, cardio or weight training?  Let’s compare.

Calorie for calorie, cardio burns more calories per minute than weight training. (10-12 cal/min vs 8-10 cal/min)  But wait… there has been shown to be a “metabolic spike” for about an hour after a weight training workout.  What does that mean? It means that you keep burning calories at a higher rate for about an hour after your workout.  During this time, your muscles have to continue to work in order to recover. Also, with weight training, you are increasing muscle mass which in turn can increase your metabolic rate. With an increase of 3 pounds of muscle mass, you would burn an extra 120 calories per day.  Does this mean that weight training is better??? I don’t know yet….

Cardio has been shown to help with mood and stress relief.  Regular cardio exercise has shown to lead to increased serotonin production in the brain.  This is a neurotransmitter involved in improving the symptoms of depression.  The optimal amount of exercises for these benefits is about 3 hours per week (about 30 minutes per day).   Haven’t we all heard of the “runner’s high”?

In the category of “looking good”, we do find that after weight lifting, the muscles can look bigger and more toned right after a workout.  But with any type of exercise, you can start to “look good”.

Regular cardiovascular exercise has been shown to reduce risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis and stroke.  But strengthening exercises can help minimize injuries. Especially core strengthening and balance exercises. As you get older, balance can become more of a problem. Doing strengthening and balance exercises can help prevent falls as well.  Regular weight lifting has also been shown to help in preventing the gain of intra abdominal fat (that’s the fat around your organs inside)

So what is the answer?  Cardio or weight training?  I think that the answer is that both are better! It is important to keep in mind that any increased movement counts. There are benefits to both cardio and weight training.  Choose something that you like to do. If you are not enjoying the activity, you are less likely to do it.  If you are unable to do a traditional exercise program due to medical issues or joint problems, be creative.  Think of other ways to move your body in order to get the blood pumping through your heart and your muscles.  There is no “right answer” to this question. Just get up off the couch and move a little!


-Michele M. Schulz, MD