Cardio has long been touted as a fat-loss solution, and many people assume they need to slog away on the treadmill for an hour every day to budge the scale.
But while some people see fat loss results by incorporating cardio into their routines, is cardio actually necessary for fat loss?
The short answer is: no.
At the end of the day, fat loss is a matter of calories: You can eat fewer calories than your body needs to maintain its current weight, burn more calories than your body needs through physical activity or take advantage of both strategies.
THE CARDIO-DIET COMBO
That said, research shows combining exercise with a healthy diet may be the best option for fat loss, as demonstrated by a study in Obesity.
In the study, overweight and obese postmenopausal women followed either a diet-only program, an exercise-only program or a combined exercise and diet program for a year. The women who followed the combination program saw the greatest fat-loss results, while the women who followed the exercise-only program saw the least fat-loss results (10.8% versus 2.4% fat loss). Interestingly, the women in the diet-only program also saw significant results by the end of the year (8.5%).
What’s also interesting is the women in the exercise-only and combination programs performed aerobic exercise. The sessions started on the lower end and peaked at 45 minutes a day, five days per week.
However, as we saw, women in the combination group lost only a little more fat than the women in the diet-only group. In this sense, cardio is not necessary for fat loss, but it can help you reach your goal when combined with a healthy diet.
CARDIO AND STRENGTH TRAINING FOR A HEALTHY LIFESTYLE
While cardio isn’t necessary for fat loss, both cardio and strength training are important components to include in any healthy lifestyle. “Cardio should not be eliminated from anyone’s regular fitness routine, as it remains an important part of cardiovascular health,” Novak says. Meanwhile, resistance training improves brain function, balance, bone density and reduces your risk of falling as you age, she notes.