Is Cardio Better than Strength Training for Stress Management?

When considering the benefits of regular exercise, most people immediately think of things like improved strength, stamina, and overall physical health. An additional, often under appreciated use of exercise is its role in stress management. Exercise as stress relief is a well-known concept, but if you want to maximize the benefits of exercise for stress management, is cardio better than weight training or vice versa? This article will look at the topic in more detail.

How does exercise help with stress?

It helps first to understand how exercise aids with stress management. There is a whole field of sports science dedicated to understanding the intricacies of how the body’s systems are linked. On a general level, exercise increases blood flow, optimizes your body’s use of oxygen, and releases endorphins. These endorphins are sometimes called ‘feel-good’ hormones and are the source of what’s known as the ‘runner’s high’ among cardio enthusiasts. This routine makes people feel good and provides a sense of stress relief that is much less common among weightlifters. So is cardio better than weight training for stress management?

Benefits of weight training

The benefits of strength training are well-documented and extend beyond what you’d likely expect. For example, regular weight training can improve strength and build bigger muscles. Still, it also helps lower your cholesterol, reduce the symptoms of anxiety, and can help you maintain an improved posture.

Weight training is anaerobic exercise, which is based on shorter but more intense movements than cardio. ‘Anaerobic’ literally means ‘without oxygen’ and refers to the fact that anaerobic exercises break down glucose in the body without using oxygen. It is different from aerobic activities like running and swimming, which use oxygen, and explains why you don’t hear about a ‘weightlifter’s high.’

Weightlifters may still find stress-relieving, as it is an excellent medium to channel frustration and aggression into pushing yourself to lift heavier weights and for additional repetitions. However, it doesn’t offer the same kind of endorphin-rush that cardio can. The stress relief provided by weight training is mainly dependent on an individual’s ability to channel stress into lifting more, which will work for some people but not for others.

Benefits of cardio

The sense of euphoria from a runner’s high can make you feel like your stress is melting away. However, experiencing runner’s high appears to be relatively rare, with most athletes reporting never experiencing it. So what is actually behind the stress relief experienced by those who undertake regular cardiovascular exercise?

There are two types of benefits to consider, the short-term and the long-term. In the short term, cardio requires a lot of movement over long distances. For many, this involves jogging outside. The benefits of being outside and soaking up the sun in the fresh air are well-documented. Still, cardio also requires you to focus on maintaining a consistent rhythm, pace, and breathing pattern, as well as awareness of your surroundings and the path ahead of you. It provides a natural distraction from the things in our minds that are causing us stress.

In the longer term, cardio promotes the growth of new blood vessels that help transport oxygen to the brain. It’s also thought that regular exercise encourages adult neurogenesis, which creates new brain cells. These brain cells may form in particular areas of the brain and are linked to the overall mood and well-being increases. They also help improve working memory, enable better task-switching, and have a significant anti-depressive effect. It makes the brain better able to cope with physical and mental stress, which is key to effective stress management.

Healthy body, healthy mind

Whether you choose aerobic or anaerobic exercises, there is one consistent conclusion to be drawn from all available scientific evidence. Voluntary movement is one of the best things you can do to help reduce the effects of aging, improve your physical and cognitive abilities and improve your overall health and well-being. 

In terms of stress management, both cardio and weight training can have stress-reducing effects. However, cardio does have some additional benefits over weight training that makes it a slightly better choice for stress management. The use of oxygen that comes with aerobic exercise provides some other benefits for stress management that give it a slight edge over weight training. 

That is not to say that people must choose one type of exercise and only do that. The best course of action may be to incorporate both aerobic and anaerobic exercises into your routine. That way, you get the benefits of both types of exercise.

Run your problems away

Cardio has the edge when it comes to stress management, so when I say run away from your problems, I mean that for the sake of your health. It may help to go running or jogging outside, as opposed to on a treadmill at the gym. The extra awareness you need when running out can help distract you from your problems, and the time away from your desk and other distractions allows you to think about your situation in a calm and meditative manner. The additional health benefits you’ll get from regular cardio exercise are the cherry on top.

Use Jefit App

Jefit was recently named best online strength training workout for 2021 in an article published by Healthline. The app comes equipped with a customizable workout planner and training log. The app has ability to track data, offer audio cues, and features to share workouts with friends. Take advantage of Jefit’s exercise database for your strength workouts. Visit our members-only Facebook group. Connect with like-minded people, share tips, and advice to help get closer to reaching your fitness goals. Try one of the new interval-based workouts and add it to your weekly training schedule. Stay strong with Jefit.

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