Cardio and strength training each have its own purpose as far as exercise and their effect on the body. To understand which one is best for reducing stress and anxiety, let’s look at the advantages of each.
Weight lifting or resistance training is a good way to burn calories – in some cases better than cardio training. Strength training also keeps burning calories at a higher rate long after finishing a workout. A study from the University of Wisconsin proved the metabolism of subjects in the study stayed elevated up to 39 hours in some participants after a weight-lifting workout.
Strength training is also a good way to burn more calories per day from an increase in muscle mass. Three pounds of additional muscle burns 120 more calories per day than otherwise would have been burned without the extra muscle. Because of the extra calorie burn, body fat diminishes and muscles look more toned and firm. In general, your body image will improve.
Because strength training improves balance, strength, and agility, it reduces the risk of injury from a fall. And because of additional strength, tasks around the house that require some lifting, such as grocery shopping and laundry, will be easier to do.
However, does strength training do anything to reduce stress and anxiety? Basically no – for that, you need to do cardio training.
Cardio training reduces stress and anxiety by releasing endorphins in the brain. These are the “feel good” hormones that many refer to as a “runner’s high” or that euphoric feeling runners get after completing a run. Because it takes a certain intensity and duration to release the endorphins, the effect does not happen with strength training. At the same time endorphins are being released, the level of serotonin is increasing. The increase has been proven to reduce stress and anxiety.
Cardio training also helps improve one’s health. Regular cardio exercise prevents inflammation, raises the good cholesterol HDL and reduces the risk of obesity, heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, stroke and certain types of cancer. Ill health is a major cause of stress and anxiety within the body. Plus, cardio reduces fatigue and builds stamina. Just feeling stronger and more empowered helps reduce stress and anxiety too.
So to answer the question in the title, cardio is much more effective at reducing stress and anxiety, however the ideal exercise program is a combination of both. Cardio four days per week, strength training two days per week (but not on consecutive days) and one day per week of rest and recovery.