I hate to pit one against the other. Both is certainly best. But if you only do one, it should be the strength training. Why?
Cardio training typically happens upright - walking, hiking, jogging, elliptical or on a bike non-weight bearing. These are good forms of exercise and we should do them. However, because most of these are performed upright they do not move the body through full ranges of movement and therefore do not develop truly functional strength & flexibility. Yes, you will develop good cardiovascular health, but we have to bend, squat, lunge, push, pull, get up, get down, and balance in real life.
As we age we all want to maintain our quality of life - continuing to do the activities we have always enjoyed such as gardening, recreational sports, outdoor activities and the simple chores of life. We want to maintain our independence as long as we can. Losing our strength may be the single greatest factor in maintaining this independence. Nobody wants to feel trapped in his or her body.
Benefits of strength training:
- The Muscle-Fat Connection: Physical inactivity causes a loss of about 5-7 pounds of muscle per decade. This loss creates a 2-5% loss in metabolic rate per decade, which leads to gradual gains in fat. This weight gain and its connection to disease and loss of strength can destroy one's quality of life. A basic 3 month strength program can add 3 pounds of muscle, a loss of 4 pounds of fat while consuming 15% more calories in older populations (Campbell 1994).
- Osteoporosis Prevention: A Tufts University study found that strength training not only slows bone loss but even in our latter decades of life adds bone density.
- Arthritic Pain: The same study from Tufts University found that strength training decreased arthritic pain because it helps to lubricate and nourish the joint and develop strength around the joint to provide more stability and support.
- Glucose Metabolism: Glucose metabolism decreases with age making us more susceptible to diabetes. A four month strength training program has demonstrated an increase of 23% in glucose metabolism in older populations (Hurley).
- Functional Strength & Flexibility: Strength training develops balance which can help in preventing falls. It develops a body that can move in all ranges of movement.
- Cardiovascular Improvement: Strength training can be used in a circuit that keeps the heart rate up and kills two birds with one stone.
- Confidence: Often, as we age, we lose confidence to move. We stop moving. This creates a downward spiral in every measurable health index. If you don't use it you will lose it. Very simply strength will give you more confidence to keep moving and the ability to. The end result is you will maintain and improve every measurable health index.
What should you do? Two days a week push and pull, squat and lunge. Do three sets of 10-15 per exercise and piece the workout together as a circuit and keep your heart rate up! If you need some more specific ideas... let me know.
To your health,