Let’s assume you are overweight by 20 pounds – just for the sake of argument – because we know you are not 20 pounds overweight. What’s the best exercise to lose weight? Should you do aerobics, strength training, or both?
You will lose 20 pounds if you do aerobics. And you will lose 15 pounds if you do a combination of aerobics and strength/resistance training? Which exercise program would you pick? On the surface the answer is obvious, but to answer the question correctly you need more information. The reason for these questions is to point out this article may be misleading. The actual study was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
Fat Loss Versus Weight Loss
When most talk about weight loss they are invariably talking about fat loss. But, you can lose fat and gain lean muscle simultaneously and this is especially true if you perform resistance or strength training exercises. That’s where there can be some confusion.
Now, would you rather lose 20 pounds of fat with no change in your lean mass for a total loss of weight of 20 pounds (aerobics only)?. Or, would you rather lose 25 pounds of fat while gaining 10 pounds of lean body mass for a net loss of weight of 15 pounds (aerobics and strength training)? Now that you have more information which exercise option looks more appealing?
What’s the Best Exercise?
Studies like this one in the Journal of Applied Physiology probably do more harm than good. For overall health and fitness you really should do both aerobic exercise as well as strength training. The study did not consider the effects of high intensity interval training which can be thought of as “super aerobics”, and may be even more beneficial for fat loss than aerobics. And, it does not appear that diet was controlled for between the three exercise groups which could have influenced the results of the study.
We often hear that life is an “endurance event” which would imply that we should focus on aerobic activity. But, I tell patients life is an endurance event comprised of short bursts of activity suggesting we also need to work on strength/resistance training.
When we do aerobics we train our type 1 muscle fibers. But, some of the most basic activities of daily living utilize our type 2 muscle fibers which we train by doing resistance training. Getting out of chair, climbing a flight of stairs, opening a garage door, and so on are predominately type 2 muscle fiber actions. These are the activities many struggle with as they age. Type 2 muscle fibers are what enables us to be more functional.
Is there a best exercise? It really depends on your goal and objective. There is no ideal exercise for all circumstances.
For overall health and fitness, and to maintain optimal function as you age you should do both aerobic exercise and resistance/strength training.
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