Is Cardio or Strength Training Better for Fat Loss?

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Practically everyone knows that to lose weight you need to consume fewer calories. So, most people try to reduce their calorie intake and hope for the best.

And, most people add exercise to their weight loss strategy. But, which type of exercise is best for weight loss: Cardio or Resistance Training?

Exercise is a very popular way to burn calories. You see more and more gyms being built and more people than every are paying for gym memberships. Statistic Brain tells us that there are 30,500 gyms and health clubs in the United States.

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A recent article published in the journal Obesity investigate several factors involved in weight loss.

The authors used 249 older men and women with an average age of 66.9, ranging from 60 to 79.  The participants had an average BMI of 34.4. All had a BMI greater then 28. This put nearly all of them into the obese category. They exercised for less than 1 hour per week and had symptoms of cardiovascular disease or metabolic syndrome.

The purpose of the 18 month-long study was to evaluate the effects of three weight loss strategies:

  • Calorie Restricted Weight Loss (WL) alone. The calorie restrictions were intended to produce a weight loss of 7-10% body mass over the course of the study. This group was asked not to begin an exercise program.
  • Calorie Restricted Weight Loss Plus Aerobic Training (WL+AT). In addition to calorie restrictions, this group walked four days a week for 45 minutes a day at a pace that was considered somewhat hard.
  • Calorie Restricted Weight Loss Plus Resistance Training (WL+RT). In addition to calorie restrictions, this group performed resistance training 4 days a week for 45 minutes each day. The goal in each exercise was to perform 12 repetitions in three sets for two consecutive sessions before increasing the resistance.

The Results

The good news is that all three groups lost weight. Average percentage weight losses for the groups was 6.1% for the WL group, 8.6% for the WL+AT group, and 9.7% for the WL+RT group.

And, while these results are all good, we must ask what type of body mass was lost? The choices are lean mass (muscle) or fat?

Because, pound for pound, muscle burns 10 to 20 times more calories than fat, the loss of muscle mass reduces your resting metabolism. This makes it harder to burn calories and lose weight. The loss of muscle mass also reduces your ability to perform daily activities including walking, balancing, and doing daily chores.

Weight Loss Results

Let’s look at the breakdown of muscle loss and fat loss.

Body Mass Loss Results

In this chart, the lighter bars show fat loss. The darker bars show muscle loss.

Note that those who restricted calories and exercised lost more weight than those who just restricted calories.

As you can see from this chart,  the most fat was lost from the group that both restricted calories and performed resistance training. This group also lost the least amount of muscle mass.

The most muscle mass was lost from those who both restricted calories and performed aerobic training. Their decrease in muscle mass lowered their resting metabolism and made it more difficult for them to continue to lose weight.

The important point here is that it was the type of exercise that played an important role in the amounts of muscle and fat that was lost. The calorie restriction and resistance training group lost the most fat and lost the least amount of muscle. This is the best outcome.

What This Means for You

First, the good news is that you can lose weight. Restricting calories is an important key. Even if you are older.

Second, you can lose weight while retaining as much lean muscle mass as possible by combining calorie restrictions with resistance training.

While this study was done on senior citizens, younger people can put more effort into their resistance training and lose weight faster and even build muscle mass, thus raising their metabolism.

So, what are you waiting for? Modest calories restrictions and resistance training present the optimal path to losing that excess weight.

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