If you’re looking for the most science-based strategy to live a healthier life, the evidence is clear: Regular physical activity helps people feel better, function better, sleep better, all while reducing the risk of many chronic diseases. It doesn’t apply to some people, either. Research shows that men and women of all races and ethnicities, young children to older adults, women who are pregnant, people living with chronic conditions or disabilities—they all gain benefits from movement.
But while you may like dance cardio classes and your friend prefers the weight room, striking the right mix of cardio and strength training is key for tapping into the full potential of your sweat sessions. Read on to make sure you’re getting the ideal dose.
Made to Move
For decades, scientists have been studying the links between exercise and our health, trying to understand the right balance of strength training to cardio. Here are just a few of the big wins you score from getting active:
- Lower risk of heart disease, stroke, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, dementia and Alzheimer’s, several types of cancer and some complications of pregnancy.
- Improved cognition, including memory, attention and processing speed.
- Less weight gain, obesity and related chronic health conditions.
- Better bone health and balance, with less risk of injury from falls.
- Fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety.
How Much Cardio Per Week?
How much cardio should you do, exactly? Big picture, experts agree: Something is always better than nothing. Adults who sit less and do any amount of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity will gain some health benefits.
More specifically, the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans published by The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services gives the most current recommendations.
For substantial health benefits adults should do:
- At least 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) to 300 minutes (5 hours) a week of moderate-intensity, or 75 minutes (1 hour and 15 minutes) to 150 minutes (2 hours and 30 minutes) a week of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity. (Preferably, this should be spread throughout the week.)
- Muscle-strengthening activities of moderate or greater intensity that involve all major muscle groups on 2 or more days a week.
If you think the strength-training recommendations feel a little vague, you’re not wrong. But don’t take that to mean weights are any less important. “It’s easier to report on and measure aerobic physical activity for large populations,” says Orangetheory research scientist Brittany Leboeuf, PhD. “Strength training, while also very important, is just more difficult to study.”
How to Mix Cardio and Strength Training
These guidelines are just that: a guide. “They were created in reference to general health, but when dealing with specific populations or outcomes, the exercise prescription can be a lot more specific,” says Leboeuf.
Take strength training. The guidelines suggest targeting all major muscle groups at least twice a week. “For beginners, this may look like 1-3 sets of 8-12 repetitions. One exercise per major muscle group (legs, hips, chest, back, abdomen, shoulders, and arms) that is performed twice a week,” explains Leboeuf. With experience, you might use more weight, perform more reps or complete more strength workouts per week.
Same goes for cardio. If you’re already pretty active, more than 150 minutes is encouraged, says Leboeuf. (In fact, research shows going beyond the 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week can be beneficial.)
For the time-crunched out there, keep in mind—some workouts count double. “Group fitness is often lumped in the cardio category, but many concepts include strength training exercises as well,” explains Leboeuf. Like Orange 60 classes, for example. “Throughout the duration of the class–which is a mixture of strength and cardio–members can expect to rarely fall below moderate intensity according to their heart rate, which is tracked in real time using our state-of-the-art OTbeat technology.”
But what about a class like Orangetheory’s Strength 50, which is focused on muscle strengthening? “If you achieve at least moderate intensity, that time can and should also be counted towards total minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity for the week.”
Bottom line: The physical activity guidelines are a great benchmark for our overall health. The perfect dose for you—the right mix of intensities, types of workouts and total minutes—might look different than your neighbor. It might even look different for you in different seasons of life. But as long as it blends both cardio and strength training, you’ll be reaping the powerful perks that only this dynamic duo can provide.