Question: “Do I really have to do cardio exercise to lose fat?”
Answer: No!

Actually, you only have to do very little exercise to lose fat, but that would be silly, because the benefits of exercise go way beyond the boundaries of fat-loss.  Making sustainable changes to your food is even more important for fat-loss than either cardio or strength training.  People don’t like to hear that bit so I’ll say it again, only louder.


Anyway, given the question is about the two types of exercise, I shall answer.  Let’s crack on.

Cardio first: Yes, cardio exercise (like swimming, running, cycling) will increase your cardiovascular fitness.  CV fitness is one component of our overall physical fitness and this one is about improving the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to working muscles.  So, if you’re not used to exercise, and you suddenly take  it upon yourself to make a dash of 100 metres to the train, then the speed at which the heart can pump out enough blood (containing that oxygen) to your poor legs will be slower than the smug woman behind you who is also late for the train but regularly runs 10k.  Her heart will have adapted during her training and therefore it can deliver more blood but in fewer pumps to those legs for longer periods of time.  Get my drift?  This is about cv fitness.  Not fat-loss.  Both women may be carrying more fat than they would like but this is about fitness.  Not fatness. Running keeps us fit, it doesn’t necessarily keep us in shape.  That means eating better. Read on.

Resistance training. This involves overloading your muscles and taking them out of their comfort zone.  Moves like squats, push-ups, bicep curls and so on.  The muscles change because small muscle fibres tear as you progress your training and afterwards they grow back dense, toned and firm.   So Mrs Notveryfit does 10 squats and hurts so much she can’t sit on the loo the next day.  Mrs Reallyquitefit regularly knocks out 4 sets of 10 squats a few times a week and has started to love that burny feeling.  Her body has adapted and her legs are super firm.  She can sit on the loo with precious little pain whenever she likes.

But the interesting point is the effects of those squats will last them both longer.

Both types of exercise  (cardio and resistance) burn energy (calories).  30 minutes of running at a good pace will most likely burn more calories than 30 minutes of resistance training.  And that is why the old chestnut of cardio = fat-loss has stuck so rigidly in the mind of the general public.  But it is having firm muscles which burns fat.   I’m not saying don’t do cardio.  I’m saying add in resistance training too if you want to get into shape. (But before both of those things, lit’s crucial to look closely at how much …and what…we’re eating).

Muscle is a more metabolically active tissue than fat…which means it burns more calories at rest.  By having firmer muscle through your resistance training, your metabolic rate will rise.  So often, I hear women say ‘I can’t lose weight because I have a slow metabolism’.  Then raise it!

And there’s more.  Firmer muscles mean better supported joints and stronger bones, both of which are allies in the descent towards the golden years.  Lean muscle mass diminishes with age so by the time we hit the menopause, we’re all moaning that we’ve put on body-fat.  We can reverse this simply by starting a resistance training programme.  Start with body weight moves, follow an online workout suitable for your level or join a gym which runs a beginner’s strength training programme.

I’m going to repeat what I said at the beginning of this piece.  The most important …(that’s THE most important)….factor of successful fat-loss, though, is always going to be making healthy sustainable changes to your food.  Feed those working muscles with protein, eat good fats, whole carbohydrates and minimum sugar.   Successful fat loss is 90% about food and 10% about exercise.  The benefits of exercise (whether cardio or resistance training) are huge and very little to do with fat-loss.

So, choose the exercise that makes you happy but add in resistance training for the protection of your body.   The empowerment and downright upbeat feeling that some humming muscles gives you is glorious.

(Based on a piece written for Woman&Home June 2021).


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