Cardio or Weight Lifting To Lose or Maintain Weight?

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You’ll hear and read all sorts of advice on whether you should lift heavy weights or do cardio to lose or keep off weight. In addition, the pendulum keeps swinging back and forth on this one. Back in the 80s and 90s it was aerobics and running. Then about a decade ago it was lifting heavy weights. A new study sought to answer this age-old question and the results are important.

Cardio vs Weights

The story that supports cardio for weight loss or maintenance is that you simply burn more calories. The story for lifting heavy weights is that you make your muscles bigger which then uses more calories. So which is it?

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The New Research

Most of the old research in this area is retrospective, meaning someone looked backward to see if they could find associations. The new research I’d like to highlight this morning is prospective. Meaning the scientists put a research design in place and then looked forward to determine if there were differences between the groups.

Almost twelve thousand people were enrolled into an aerobic exercise study in 1987 that continued through 2005. The study participants were followed for an average of 6 years to determine who did and did not develop obesity. Compared to people who did not perform resistance exercise (71% of participants), those who performed 1–2 hours/week or at least 2 days/week of resistance exercise had a 20%–30% reduced risk of obesity, even after adjusting for aerobic exercise. The lowest risk for becoming obese was found in people who performed both resistance exercise and aerobic exercise.

The upshot? I’ve always thought it was better to split the baby on this one and do both of these as much as possible. So make sure to lift weights and get your cardio in!



(1) Brellenthin AG, Lee DC, Bennie JA, Sui X, Blair SN. Resistance exercise, alone and in combination with aerobic exercise, and obesity in Dallas, Texas, US: A prospective cohort study. PLoS Med. 2021 Jun 23;18(6):e1003687. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1003687. PMID: 34161329.

Chris Centeno, MD is a specialist in regenerative medicine and the new field of Interventional Orthopedics. Centeno pioneered orthopedic stem cell procedures in 2005 and is responsible for a large amount of the published research on stem cell use for orthopedic applications. View Profile

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