Yoga vs. cardio. Cross-training vs. circuit training. Low impact vs. high impact. Walking vs. jogging vs. running. What’s the best way to get into shape? It can seem impossible to know! Take a breath! The reality is that any form of exercise is healthier than none at all.
When you are interested in increasing your fitness level and improving your overall health (and well being), questions abound! The subject of yoga vs. cardio has been especially hot. What does the research say?
Strength is developed by pushing your muscles to do what they couldn’t before. Cardio builds endurance, but that endurance doesn’t rely on building lean muscle mass. Yoga, on the other hand, helps develop strength as well as endurance by building lean muscle mass – often in muscles that are overlooked by other exercises.
Think about it this way: have you ever seen the Olympics? Long-distance runners are typically thinner and don’t carry as much muscle on them. Sprinters are nothing but muscle; they look “bulkier.” This shows the extremes of each approach (neither of which is “wrong” or “better.” Healthy is the optimal state!)
Steady-state cardio maintained over a long period of time doesn’t help you develop strength very efficiently. Yoga relies on positions that the body becomes better at holding with practice. Holding those positions for limited but intense amounts of time builds muscle that makes those exercises easier over time.
Yoga also helps drastically improve flexibility while building lean muscle. Many body builders who focus on weight lifting lose a great deal of flexibility over time. Yoga is a way to build muscle in a very healthy way while also improving flexibility – it’s the best of both worlds.
Many people exercise with burning off fat as a priority. That means burning calories. In the Olympics example, you thought about how distance runners typically tend to be thinner and lighter in build. An hour-long yoga class of medium difficulty burns off about 350 calories. Cardio maintained over an hour burns off about 600. That covers all forms of cardio, whether it’s running outdoors or on an elliptical machine.
Yoga offsets some of this by helping you build lean muscle mass. This helps you burn calories throughout the day. That said, cardio is still the better pure fat burner if you can maintain it.
You’ve probably also heard that lifting can help you burn fat. This is because when your body builds muscle, it’s burning calories – and your body keeps building muscle long after you’ve stopped weight lifting for the day.
A well-rounded approach to exercise – one that combines the fat burning of cardio, the muscle training of weight lifting, and the lean muscle building, endurance training, and flexibility of yoga – is often the best approach.
Movement-based yoga such as hatha, vinyasa, and iyengar have been shown in studies to reduce blood pressure, body mass index, overall body weight, and cholesterol as well as cycling or swimming can. That’s a who’s who of risk factors. Yoga’s meditative approach also helps to reduce stress.
Best of all, yoga practitioners see marked improvement in their ability to reach and hold poses. It’s easy to recognize improvement as you practice yoga. Reaching goals and surpassing past achievements can help people feel happier and more confident in their bodies.
The body will change to become healthier with any form of regular exercise – it’s important that you can inhabit that healthier version of yourself with confidence.
Yoga vs. Cardio
The benefits of yoga and cardio are clear. Each has been shown to help with physical health as well as mental well-being. Regular exercise can help improve self-esteem and confidence. It can help reduce anxiety and stress.
Is there a single best approach? It honestly depends on you.
The best form of exercise is the one you’ll keep on doing. For many, this means diving right into one form of exercise. This can be easier with yoga because classes can help form community and everyone’s interested in helping everyone else improve. Once you get several classes in, you’ll be able to pick up cardio wherever you are, with or without that class.
For some, regular exercise means matching a difficult work schedule. That might mean you can’t always make it to classes. The beauty of cardio is that you can pick it up wherever, whenever.
Some people hate running – those people shouldn’t force themselves to run as their primary form of exercise. Yoga eases people in more, so they might enjoy yoga more.
Mixing Types of Exercise
Mixing approaches can also help. Yoga helps you get more out of lifting. Lifting can help you be a runner who has more burst and acceleration. Cardio can help you get more out of the flexibility and endurance that yoga provides.
Many people vary it up. They go to yoga classes twice a week, lift and run once a week, and do yoga on their own some evenings. Maybe you mix kickboxing or dance classes in because they’re fun and help you stay active in other ways. There’s no such thing as brand loyalty in types of exercise. The best approach is what works for you, what you’ll still have fun doing in a month, and what makes you healthier.
Building rewards and habits into your workouts can also help you keep them up. It could be a protein shake after lifting. Or perhaps it’s a dark chocolate to help you replenish some energy after running. Maybe a glass of white wine after yoga helps you feel refreshed. These treats won’t undo the work you just did, but they can help you feel fulfilled, satisfied, and happy with your work.