Both cardiovascular exercise and strength training are valid and useful parts of a complete fitness routine for women. You may focus only on aerobic exercise and neglect workout components that could build muscle, but a more varied routine helps maintain fitness with age and mask problem areas at any weight. For optimal fitness combine strength training, cardio and stretching.
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Every Which Way
Any type of physical activity, whether part of strength training or cardio exercise, has significant health benefits for women of all ages and sizes. Women who exercise regularly sleep better, have more energy, feel better and enjoy a reduced risk of chronic diseases such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, both cardio and strength training can help you maintain a healthy weight or stimulate weight loss.
Feel the Burn
Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise effectively burns calories and traditionally forms the foundation of a multi-component fitness routine. Examples of some very common cardio exercises include biking, jogging, brisk walking, swimming and jump rope. The American Council on Exercise suggests that a key part of doing cardio exercise is to maintain a consistent, comfortable pace so that the heart rate is elevated for a prolonged period of time without straining the body too much.
Unlike most cardio exercises, strength training focuses on building muscle. Muscle burns more calories at a resting heart rate than body fat. Women who have adequate amounts of muscle as they age may find it easier to maintain a healthy weight and a trim figure. Common strength training activities make use of resistance bands, fitness balls, dumbbells or your own body weight to build and maintain muscle mass.
The Centers for Disease Control suggests combining a minimum of 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity per week with at least two strength training sessions. Each strength session should ideally include eight to 10 different exercises, with a minimum of eight repetitions of each. Choose cardio activities and strength movements that work out all the body’s major muscle groups, including the hips, upper and lower legs, arms, chest and back.
The Next Level
Books like "The New Rules of Lifting for Women: Lift Like a Man, Look Like a Goddess" are encouraging you to move away from the notion that lifting anything heavier than a five pound pair of dumbbells is advisable. Modern fitness gurus are urging you to think in terms of building muscle rather than toning. You'll replace fat with muscle and while your weight may stay the same, you'll have a more defined physique. And any woman who fears looking "bulky" instead of streamlined, just realize that it's very nearly impossible unless you're training for a bodybuilding competition.