If you want to burn fat and lose weight, aerobic exercise beats resistance training, a recent study says.

"We are not trying to discourage people from resistance training," said study author Leslie Willis, MS, an exercise physiologist at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, North Carolina.


Previous studies have shown that resistance training has many benefits, including improving blood sugar control, she said, but the effects of it on fat reduction have not been conclusive.

Study Details

The recent study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, compared resistance training to aerobic exercise to determine which is best for weight and fat loss.

Willis's team assigned 234 middle-aged men and women, all overweight or obese, to one of three groups for the eight-month study. The resistance-training group worked out three times a week, with instructions to exercise about three hours total. They used eight different weight machines.

The aerobic group put in about 12 miles a week on elliptical machines or treadmills, putting in about 133 minutes a week, or about 2% hours.

The combination group worked out three days a week, putting in the combined effort of the resistance training and the aerobic groups.

Study Results

Those who did aerobic exercise only or a combination of aerobic and resistance training reduced total body mass and fat mass more than those in the resistance only group. However, the aerobic only group and the combination group were not substantially different from each other, Willis said.

For instance, the aerobic only group lost 3.8 pounds and the combination group lost 3.6 pounds.

Exercise Levels Should Be Considered a "Vital Sign"

Recent report: Physicians should put more emphasis on a patient's overall physical activity level-much as they do with blood pressure readings and body weight.

Prediction: The number of people who exercise regularly would likely increase, as did the number of people who quit smoking when doctors began recommending smoking-cessation programs.

Self-defense: At your next doctor visit, be sure to discuss your physical activity levels.

Drink Cold Water During Intense Exercise

Cold water regulates internal body temperature and prevents dehydration more efficiently than room-temperature water.

The combination group did experience the largest reduction in waist circumference. A large waist (over 35 inches in women, over 40 in men) is a risk factor for heart disease and other problems.


The recent study results suggest for people short on time, focusing on aerobic exercise is the best way to lose weight and fat, Willis said.

The combination group "did double the time commitment without significantly improving the result over the aerobic group alone for fat mass," Willis noted.

"If fat mass is something a person wants to target, I would say your most time-efficient method would be to focus on the cardiovascular exercise," she said.

"Resistance training did increase lean mass, but it doesn't change fat mass, so the pounds didn't change," she said.

Resistance Training Still Important

Timothy Church, MD, PhD, MPH, director of preventive medicine research at Pennington Biomedical Research Center in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, said experts have known that "aerobic exercise really helps with weight loss."

However, he said, the study results are no reason to dismiss resistance training. People lose muscle mass as they age, he said, and resistance training, which helps maintain muscle strength, can help with quality-of-life issues.

It can help people perform such small but important everyday tasks as lifting their grandchildren and getting luggage into overhead bins on airplanes, he said.

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