Many times we see or hear people ask what the best form of exercise is. The three main forms of exercise include aerobics (cardiovscular training), anaerobic training, and flexibility training. Resistance training is the most common form of anaerobic training, but anerobic training also includes sprint training or high intensity interval training.
For overall health and fitness you need to devote some attention to each of these types of exercise. Each of us is naturally suited better for form of exercise than another. Some of us are naturally flexible. Some are naturally more muscular while others are thinner and seem better suited for aerobic activity. In this post we are going to look at specific differences between aerobics and resistance training as these are the two most common forms of exercise performed by most.
The following table is a modification of Pollock and Vincent’s from The President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports Research Digest. The table compares the effects of aerobic training and resistance training on several markers of health. The more astericks the stronger the effect of that form of exercise on that health marker or variable.
Health Marker Aerobic Training Resistance Training
Increases bone mineral density * ***
Decreases body fat ** *
Increases muscle mass little effect ***
Increases strength * ***
Improves insulin sensitivity *** **
Decreases basal insulin levels * **
Increases HDL (good cholesterol) *** little effect
Decreases LDL (bad cholesterol) little effect little effect
Decreases resting heart rate ** little effect
Decreases systolic blood pressure ** little effect
Decreases diastolic blood pressure ** *
Improves cardiovascular fitness *** *
Improves endurance time *** **
Improves physical function ** ***
Increases basal metabolism * **
The relative effects of aerobics and resistance training on these health markers I don’t think are surprising. Aerobics will improve markers of cardiovascular health better than resistance training, but resistance training will better improve body composition markers and bone health. Both can improve metabolic markers like insulin sensitivity and overall metabolism.
Word on Flexibility
What about flexibility? Flexibility is probably the fitness parameter most overlooked. The need for flexibility becomes more and more apparent as we age. Most of us neglect to need to stretch and improve flexibility probably because of shortage to time to exercise. At least, that’s the excuse I use. But, you can only build strength and endurance within the range you have motion. Limited range of motion limits strength and limits greatly in some cases your ability to perform daily activities. Being inflexible also hampers balance and gait.
It should be apparent that including both aerobics and resistance training in your exercise routine is the best way to achieve and maintain health and fitness. Be sure to improve your flexibility as well.