By: Jordan Hoppel
Cardio training versus strength training is a topic that is widely discussed in the fitness community. Both are great and both should be done in some capacity for those looking to maintain quality health and well being. The goal of the individual and the individual’s ability will ultimately decide exactly how much cardio training versus how much strength training is done within a program. One thing that I see as people age, is that they tend to favor cardio training over strength training, and unless there are injuries involved or other contraindications, I believe this is a huge mistake. Doing cardio alone will not give you the same muscular development and functionality that strength training will. So as we age, we must make a point to not forget about strength training.
Now let me be clear when I say this. This is not an attack on cardio training. Cardio training is critical to maintaining heart and vascular health. However, it is so important not to forget about strength training as you age for a number of reasons. Bone density, posture, muscular health, overall body function, and nervous system health all decline at a fairly rapid pace as you age. The best way to combat all of these issues with one activity is by strength training.
We have all heard the phrase, “if you don’t use it, you lose it”.
This absolutely applies to your joints, bones, muscles, and nervous system. The pressure that lifting weights puts on your bones is very healthy and gives them an ability to grow just like your muscles do. The Inbody system we use here at Pulse, measures bone density, and after weeks of training we see that number go up. Its important to note that bone density can increase as you age IF you strength train. However, just cardio alone is not going to put enough stress on your skeletal system to see an increase in overall bone density.
In 2020, posture is horrible overall. Everyone is constantly hunched over looking at their devices. Text neck is a common term people are using to describe the premature poor posture people are getting from constantly looking down. Ultimately the best way to combat this is to drastically limit the amount of time we spend looking down at our devices. Looking down puts a ton of pressure on the cervical joints of the neck and spine, and create a ton of added tension in the upper back and neck muscles from the constant strain. By strengthening your back, shoulder, and neck muscles you can counteract the amount of strain being put there. Added muscle in those areas will prevent so much pressure being put on the joints and discs in your upper back.
Every decade that we age past 30, there is a 3-5% drop off in muscle mass.
Even people that exercise regular can still experience muscle loss past the age of 30. Sarcopenia is the loss of muscle as we age and we are all going to experience it to varying levels. Just go look at Arnold Schwarzenegger. He hasn’t stopped training and he looks fantastic for his age but even he is a shadow of his former self. The reason he still looks great at 73 years old is because he has kept training. If he stopped training his body would rapidly decline in muscle mass and function. Cardio training by itself is not going help keep muscle mass high and in fact if too much cardio is done, you can actually lose muscle mass.
As we age, the connections in our nervous system tend to dull and we lose reaction time, muscle contraction speed, stability and overall function. This diminishing connection is the reason why your often hear people say they aren’t as spry as they used to be. Its this part of the aging process that causes people to not feel the youthful exuberance they once felt. As you can imagine, strength and weight training helps combat this as well. Every time your muscles contract, your nervous system send a signal from your brain to your muscle that orders it to contract. Strength training will keep the connection from the brain to muscle very sharp and allow you to have more coordination, balance, and articulation of movement. Cardio training activities are not intensive enough to produce that level of contraction into the muscle.
So at this point you may be thinking, “Okay so how much cardio and strength training should I do?”
At a minimum, to maintain cardiovascular shape, 20 minutes of steady state walking, 3 times a week is adequate. I would challenge you to do more because it will make you feel better. For strength training, I would recommend at least 3 times a week for 20-30 minutes using moderate weights. In order to get the full benefit of increased bone density, the weight must be enough to create stress. Using light weights, just going through the motions, will not bring on this benefit.
So to wrap it up, both strength and cardio workouts are great ways to stay in shape, and both should be done on a regular basis. However, cardio simply does not bring on the same benefits as strength training. So as you age it’s incredibly important to not forget your strength training.