The Difference Between Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise

Has anyone ever told you that exercise is bad for your health? The answer to that should be a resounding “no.” Exercising your way to good health has been the standard for everything from losing weight to decreasing depression. Why? Because it is the one thing that works for everyone.

Most experts agree that a combination of aerobic and anaerobic exercise will give you the most benefit. You will work at different intensities using different muscle groups for a well-rounded workout.

But what is the difference between the two?

Oxygen. The difference is how your body uses the air you breathe during exercise.

What is Aerobic Exercise?

During aerobic exercise, oxygen supplies energy to sustain the movement of large muscles. Muscle fibers are able to repeatedly contract without getting tired too quickly.

Carbohydrate and glycogen stores are used as fuel during the first 20 minutes of constant movement. After that, the body starts to burn body fat to power the muscles. This is called aerobic fat-burning exercise. You burn calories at a faster rate while you are exercising, then revert to a normal state when you are through.

Aerobic exercise can be sustained for long periods thus increasing your stamina. For example, think marathon runners as opposed to sprinters who run as fast as they can for a short period.

When you are doing aerobic exercise you are burning fat and strengthening your heart and lungs. It reduces your risk of diabetes and deals you a dose of endorphins that boost your mood.

During aerobic exercises, you should be breathing hard, but not out of breath. You should still be able to have a simple conversation. Some examples of aerobic exercise include:

  • Jogging
  • Hiking
  • Biking
  • Swimming
  • Fast-paced walking
  • Classes such as Jazzercise and Zumba

To obtain the best results from aerobic exercise, try a combination of the above. Working different muscle groups will increase the calorie-burning effect.

What is Anaerobic Exercise?

Anaerobic exercises or high-intensity training requires you to exert yourself to the maximum of your ability. It gets your heart pumping and increases both your heart rate and your breathing rate. It is generally unable to be carried out for more than 3 or 4 minutes at a time.

This type of exercise occurs in the absence of oxygen. Rather than using oxygen to fuel your muscles, your body relies on its energy from muscle stores. Sprinting and weight lifting are examples of anaerobic exercise.

During anaerobic or intense exercise, your body burns a lot of calories in a short time period and upon completion of the exercise, you continue to burn calories for up to two hours.

Which One Should I Choose?

The answer to this question depends on what your exercise goals are. Both are great ways to build muscle and improve your health. However, if your goal is to burn calories, aerobic exercise generally results in a greater loss of calories being burned than anaerobic exercise.

It’s true you do continue to burn calories after anaerobic exercise but total caloric expenditure will still be less than aerobic exercise.

That doesn’t mean that you should only do aerobic exercise to lose weight. A combination of the two will give you the best results. Anaerobic and resistance training will build or maintain your muscles and aerobic exercise will improve your overall fitness.

The benefits of aerobic and anaerobic exercise include:

  • Assists in weight loss and maintenance goals
  • Builds muscle mass
  • Increases strength
  • Supports a healthy metabolism
  • Reduces overall body fat
  • Increases the function of the heart and lungs
  • Boosts the immune system
  • Reduces the risk of health conditions like heart disease
  • Improves glucose toleration and regulates sugar
  • Boosts mood
  • Encourages independence
  • Adds years to your life

The alternative to exercising is sitting. Sitting is the new smoking. A sedentary lifestyle will take years off your life expectancy and you will grow weak and tired. It is recommended that you exercise regularly for a minimum of 30 minutes a day.

Some exercise rules apply to both aerobic and anaerobic exercise such as:

  • Warm-up and cool-down
  • Aim for a target heart rate
  • Increase intensity over several weeks to avoid injury
  • Drink plenty of water and eat a light protein snack beforehand
  • Allow the body days to rest

Allowing for rest days is important. You may think that more is better, but you increase the risk of injury if you do not let your body recover. Often you will find you can increase your intensity after an off day.

Summing it up, the difference between aerobic and anaerobic exercise is the way your body uses oxygen. Both are important for a well-rounded exercise routine and both have amazing health benefits.


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