Runners and gym-goers have often been at odds over the years, arguing which one is better for overall health, and it appears that science has given one point to team endurance. A recent study determined that endurance exercise is better for improving blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure and waist circumference than lifting weights.
The study, published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, found that endurance exercise, like running or biking, stimulates circulating levels of certain mitochondrial-derived peptides (MDP’s), which could lead to increased longevity and metabolic health. They found that strength training, on the other hand, did not have the same effect.
Your mitochondria are known as the “powerhouses” of the cell, and are responsible for energy production. MDP’s perform similar functions to the mitochondria, and they play a protective role in maintaining mitochondrial function. Endurance exercise appears to stimulate the production of MDP’s, which translates into better blood sugar and cholesterol levels, improved blood pressure and a healthier waist circumference — all factors in good long-term health. (Note that a healthier waist circumference does not mean thinner — it simply means a size that is appropriate for the individual).
To come to this conclusion, researchers put participants into one of three groups: one that cycled for 45 minutes at 70 per cent of their estimated VO2 max, one that performed a strength training session including leg press and knee extension exercises and a third group as the control. Skeletal muscle biopsies and blood samples were collected before and at 30 minutes and three hours following exercise. The researchers found that the participants who performed the endurance workout had increased levels of circulating MDP’s, while the strength training group did not see any change. “In conclusion, our results indicate that circulating levels of mitochondrial-derived peptides are upregulated by endurance exercise in healthy subjects,” the researchers wrote.
This doesn’t mean you should give up strength training
If you were hoping this was finally the excuse you were looking for to skip your next gym session, don’t get ahead of yourself. While strength training may not have as beneficial an impact on blood sugar, pressure, and other biomarkers of health, it still provides plenty of benefits. As a runner, it’ll make you stronger and more injury-resistant, and when it comes to healthy aging, strength training can prevent a lot of muscle loss that often comes with getting older.
So no, you shouldn’t stop strength training, but the next time your non-running gym friends try to convince you running isn’t as good as for you as lifting weights, you can show them this study (and maybe convince them to join you for a run sometime).