Aerobic exercise comes with loads of health perks and also rules for fast weight loss -- but calling it the "best" kind of exercise wouldn't be fair. Strength training, the other major exercise style, may be less popular with women but it comes with plenty of benefits of its own. Before getting your feet wet with aerobics or strength training, see your doctor if you're sedentary or have any health conditions.
Defining Aerobic Exercise
Aerobic activity, also called cardio, elevates your heart and breathing rates for at least 10 consecutive minutes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention rates cardio exercises as either moderate or vigorous, depending on the difficulty. During moderate cardio, you break a sweat and breathe too heavily to sing, but can still comfortably carry a conversation. Vigorous cardio is so intense that you can't easily complete a sentence. Walking briskly and taking a low-impact aerobics class both qualify as moderate aerobic activities, while running or taking a high-impact step aerobics class are vigorous.
Cardio is one of the best gifts you can give to your body. It burns more calories than strength training and helps prevent nasty health problems like Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attack and stroke. By making your heart more efficient, it increases blood flow throughout your body, bringing needed oxygen to cells. The activity builds stamina to help you power through everyday tasks, and may even help you live longer, according to MayoClinic.com.
Cardio doesn't get all the glory -- a well-planned exercise routine also includes strength training. To get your strength-training fill, use dumbbells or weight machines, or rely on your own body weight for squats, pushups and crunches. These exercises make you stronger and enhance balance for a fit, graceful physique. As you build muscle, your body will also burn calories more efficiently to help you maintain a healthy weight. The stress placed on your bones during strength training also helps build bone density, preventing weakening that may lead to fractures later in life.
Building a Complete Program
"Best" or not, most workout routines include far more aerobic exercise than strength training. A healthy schedule includes 150 to 300 minutes of moderate cardio every week, or just 75 to 150 weekly minutes of vigorous cardio. Strength training is harder on your muscles, requiring smaller doses than cardio with plenty of recovery time. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends two or three weekly strength-training sessions incorporating all major muscle groups, which includes legs, arms, back, chest, stomach and hips. ACSM suggests two to four sets of eight to 12 reps for each exercise and recommends waiting at least 48 hours before working the same muscles again.
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: How Much Physical Activity do Adults Need?
- Harvard Health Publications: Calories Burned in 30 Minutes for People of Three Different Weights
- MayoClinic.com: Aerobic Exercise: Top 10 Reasons to get Physical
- American College of Sports Medicine: ACSM Issues New Recommendations on Quantity and Quality of Exercise
- MayoClinic.com: Strength Training: Get Stronger, Leaner, Healthier
Nina K. is a Los Angeles-based journalist who has been published by USAToday.com, Fitday.com, Healthy Living Magazine, Organic Authority and numerous other print and web publications. She has a philosophy degree from the University of Colorado and a journalism certificate from UCLA.