Everyone can agree that exercise is healthy. Among its many benefits, exercise improves heart and brain function, aids in controlling weight, slows the effects of aging and helps lower the risks of several chronic diseases.
For too long, though, one way of keeping fit, aerobic exercise, has been perceived as superior to the other, resistance training, for promoting health when, in fact, they are equally valuable, and both can get us to the same goal of overall physical fitness.
Aerobic exercise such as running, swimming and cycling is popular because it provides great benefits and with ample scientific evidence to back that up.
What has been far less influential to date is that resistance training — whether that’s with dumbbells, weightlifting machines or good old push-ups, lunges and dips — works about as well as aerobic exercise in all the critical areas, including cardiovascular health.
Resistance training provides another benefit: building strength and developing power, which become increasingly important as a person ages.
Building and maintaining muscle strength keeps us springing out of our chairs, maintaining our balance and posture and firing our metabolism, as my colleagues and I explain in a paper recently published by the American College of Sports Medicine.
So, if aerobic exercise and resistance training offer roughly equal benefits, how did we end up with so many runners and cyclists compared to weightlifters?
It was a combination of timing, marketing and stereotyping.
The rise of aerobics
The preference for aerobic exercise dates back to landmark research from the Cooper Centre Longitudinal Study, which played a pivotal role in establishing the effectiveness of aerobics — Dr Ken Cooper invented or at least popularized the word with his book Aerobics, spurring desk-bound Baby Boomers to take up exercise for its own sake.